Neal Gorsuch appointed to High court
(Baptist Press) More than 50 Southern Baptist and other evangelical leaders endorsed the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch in a letter sponsored by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. The Southern Baptist Convention entity released the statement Feb. 1, a day after President Donald Trump announced his nomination of Gorsuch, who served as a federal appeals court judge for 10 years. The Senate voted 54-45 on April 7 to confirm Gorsuch, filling a seat on the high court that had remained vacant since the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.
Baptists respond to trump administration’s refugee policies
Hours after President Donald Trump signed an executive order Jan. 27 to temporarily close the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, five Christian leaders took the stage at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington, D.C., to discuss how churches and individuals can respond to the complex issues surrounding refugee and immigrant ministry. Among the panelists were Travis Wussow, ERLC vice president for public policy, and Bryant Wright, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. The following month Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, joined dozens of evangelical leaders from around the nation in a letter saying they were “deeply concerned” about the program’s temporary closure. The president’s order and subsequent executive actions to limit or suspend refugee resettlement were challenged in court multiple times in 2017, leading to partial implementation of the Trump administration’s policies to date.
Deaths of despair rising among middle-aged whites
A pair of Princeton University researchers released a report in March that reveals an alarming increase in the number of “deaths of despair” among white, middle-aged, blue-collar Americans. While mortality rates are decreasing in large sectors of the global population, the study says deaths caused by drug overdoses, alcohol related liver diseases and suicides are increasing in “extraordinary” and “unanticipated” ways among white Americans ages 50-54 with a high school diploma or less. The statistics are concerning, said Brian Upshaw, Disciple-Making Team Leader for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, but churches can offer hope to the hopeless.
Baptists aid ‘dreamers’
In early 2017, two Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) staffers began helping churches discover how to serve people in their communities with immigration-related needs through education, raising awareness of missions opportunities and referrals to legal advocates for adjustment of citizenship status issues. Hispanic Christian communities in North Carolina pulled together in support of young undocumented immigrants as they dealt with uncertainty caused by the Trump administration’s announcement Sept. 5 that it would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The DACA program relied on White House administrative discretion to allow 800,000 young adults – often called “Dreamers” – to live and work in the United States, since they were brought into the country illegally as children, through no fault of their own. A six-month delay was included in the phase-out process to keep protections in place for DACA recipients while lawmakers develop replacement legislation. Some Southern Baptist leaders, including Walter Strickland, first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Travis Wussow, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission vice president for public policy, urged Congress Nov. 29 to act soon to provide a long-term remedy for Dreamers.
‘Nashville statement’ on sexuality released
A coalition of evangelical leaders, including about 70 Southern Baptists, issued a statement on biblical sexuality countering the idea that Christians “should agree to disagree” in their views of homosexual practice and transgenderism. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) announced Aug. 29 the release of The Nashville Statement, which consists of 14 affirmations and denials consistent with the church’s long-held teaching on human sexuality. The document gained its name from a meeting CBMW convened Aug. 25 in Nashville at which a coalition of scholars, pastors and other evangelical leaders discussed and endorsed the document. The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission hosted the meeting during its national conference and in conjunction with its Research Institute meeting.
Reformation anniversary celebrated
(Baptist Press, BR staff) European study tours, conferences, publications and confessions of Protestant unity are among the ways Southern Baptists celebrated the Protestant Reformation’s 500th anniversary during the past year. The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Historical Committee sponsored a panel discussion on the Reformation that included Stephen Eccher, assistant professor of church history and Reformation studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), along with Catholic and Reformed theologians. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) theology professor Gregg Allison coauthored The Unfinished Reformation, a book clarifying what unites and divides Catholics and Protestants. LifeWay Christian Resources published both the six-session Bible study Echoes of the Reformation and Reformation 500, a multi-author book exploring how the Reformation has shaped the world. SBTS and SEBTS both offered study tours of key Reformation sites this summer.
LifeWay research finds evangelical label, beliefs at odds
(Facts & Trends) Fewer than half of those who identify as evangelicals (45 percent) strongly agree with core evangelical beliefs, according to a survey by LifeWay Research released Dec. 5. And a significant number of evangelical believers reject the term “evangelical.” Only two-thirds (69 percent) of evangelicals by belief self-identify as evangelicals. In this survey, LifeWay used a set of four questions about the Bible, Jesus, salvation and evangelism developed in partnership with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Those who strongly agree with all four are considered to be evangelicals by belief. Fifteen percent of Americans are evangelicals by belief, according to LifeWay Research. By contrast, 24 percent of Americans self-identify as evangelicals.
SCOTUS takes up cake artist’s liberty
(Baptist Press) The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Dec. 5 in a major free-speech and free-exercise-of-religion case at the center of the contentious debate between religious liberty and sexual liberty. Jack Phillips, who is a Christian and owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, declined to design and decorate a cake for the wedding of two men because of his belief that marriage is between only a male and a female. He told the couple, however, he would make and sell them all other baked items. After the men filed a complaint with the state, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered Phillips to create custom cakes for same-sex ceremonies or quit designing wedding cakes. He stopped designing wedding cakes. The commission also ordered him to re-educate his employees on complying with the Colorado Anti-discrimination Act, which includes sexual orientation as a protected class, which the panel found Phillips had violated. When Phillips appealed, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the commission’s order, and the Colorado Supreme Court declined in 2016 to review the decision. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision – which is expected before its term ends in late June or early July 2018 – could be pivotal in determining how much liberty is possessed by Christians and others in the face of governmental requirements that they believe violate their consciences.
Trump restores ban on foreign abortion funding
(WORLD News) President Donald Trump reinstated a ban Jan. 23 on federal funds for organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas. The action restored a Reagan-era rule known as the Mexico City Policy, which had been rescinded under the Obama administration. The policy was expanded in May to include all foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It previously applied only to family planning groups such as International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International. About $8.8 billion in U.S. funds will fall under the expanded rule, called “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” according to a senior Trump administration official.
‘Must-see’ Bible museum opens
The Museum of the Bible, a more-than-$500-million structure located blocks from Capitol Hill, opened to the general public on Nov. 18. Religious leaders from the U.S. and Israel joined board chairman Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby and a Southern Baptist, to dedicate the eight-story attraction. Admission is free, but timed tickets are required and entry is restricted to 15-minute intervals. The museum offers a wide array of attractions, including walkthrough theatrical exhibits immersing visitors in Bible stories, Bible history displays comprising 600 artifacts and 50 media programs, a 472-seat World Stage Theater, a 3,000-square-foot biblical garden and a café offering Bible-inspired fare. Smithsonian.com described the venue as one of nine “must-see” museums that opened in 2017.