The recent edition of the Biblical Recorder briefly surveyed numerous highlights of the 2014 year. The stories, chosen by the BR staff, in this section highlight notable cultural issues across the state, nation and globe.
1. Winter Olympics
Despite concerns about terrorist threats, approximately 400 Southern Baptist volunteers traveled to Sochi, Russia to provide a gospel presence during the 2014 Winter Olympics. Along with several church groups from different states, the International Mission Board was heavily involved with a program they developed called “Engage Sochi” – an evangelistic ministry before, during and after the Olympics. Volunteers used traditional Olympic ministry methods such as trading “evangelism pins” to engage people throughout the city and in Olympic venues. The goal was not to see how many pins they could distribute, but to spend time talking with people, forming relationships and proclaiming the gospel.
2. Housing Allowance
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled Nov. 13 that an atheist organization lacked the legal right to challenge the portion of a 1954 law that permits clergy to exclude for federal income tax purposes a portion of their gross income as a housing allowance. A three-judge panel did not rule on the allowance’s constitutionality but unanimously rejected a Wisconsin federal judge’s invalidation of the provision from November 2013. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and International Mission Board signed a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the Becket Fund in support of the allowance. GuideStone joined in a brief with other denominational benefit boards as part of the Church Alliance.
3. Ham/Nye Debate
Bill Nye, former host of “Bill Nye, The Science Guy,” and Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, debated Feb. 4 at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. Hundreds of thousands of people watched the debate online which sought to answer the question: “Is creation a viable model of origins?” The attendance demonstrated a vibrant interest in the origins of the universe.
4. Paige Patterson allows Muslim at SWBTS
Paige Patterson, a notable Southern Baptist figure and leader of the Conservative Resurgence within the Southern Baptist Convention, faced heavy criticism from some Baptists who accused him of violating the standards of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, Texas. In September, SWBTS trustees affirmed Patterson after investigating his decision to admit Ghassan Nagagreh into the school’s Ph.D. program. They said, “Any violations of the seminary bylaws were done in a good-faith enthusiasm to pursue the seminary’s purpose, as set forth in its articles of incorporation.”
5. Hobby Lobby wins court case
In a narrow 5-4 landmark decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood Specialties and other religious-based companies. At stake in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. was whether the United States government can compel individuals and the businesses they own to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.
6. Immigration border crisis
The surge of unaccompanied, illegal children from Central and South America prompted many churches and faith-based groups to join the government in working to care for the children. More than 50,000 children were apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol between October 2013 and May 2014. Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and Russell Moore, the SBC’s lead ethicist, joined others in tours July 22 of two centers established to address the crisis. Floyd and Moore have called not only for a compassionate response to the plight of the unaccompanied children in this country but for repair of what is generally acknowledged is a broken immigration system.
By December 2014 the Ebola death toll had risen above 7,000 from more than 18,400 cases identified in three African countries. Many Southern Baptists responded by joining the battle against the disease. These volunteers are represented by organizations such as the International Mission Board, Samaritan’s Purse and Baptist Global Response among others. Kent Brantly, a medical doctor with Samaritan’s Purse who contracted Ebola while running a treatment center in Liberia, was one of several medical workers featured on a TIME Magazine cover as part of the magazine’s recognition of ‘Ebola Fighters’ as the 2014 Person of the Year.
8. Houston equal rights ordinance
The word “subpoenas” grabbed national attention after it became known that five Houston ministers were subpoenaed for sermons and other private correspondence regarding their opposition to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. On Oct. 29, Houston mayor Annise Parker announced the subpoenas were withdrawn. Baptists leaders and foes of the ordinance were concerned the law would violate religious freedoms. In response, some pastors organized “I Stand Sunday” to support the five pastors subpoenaed.
9. Ferguson, Missouri
The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9 garnered national attention after the teenager’s death incited both peaceful protests as well as several nights of upheaval in this St. Louis-area town. After a grand jury decided not to indict the police officer, many Southern Baptists responded with a renewed effort toward racial reconciliation.
10. ERLC national conference
On Oct. 27, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission convened a national conference in Nashville, Tenn. with the goal of bolstering marriage within the church as well as protect marriage outside it. The event – “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage” – considered how Christians can minister in a post-marriage culture.
11. Front Street tragedy: one year later
On Oct. 2, 2013, six members of Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville were killed in a three-vehicle accident outside Knoxville, Tenn. Two others were killed and another 12 were injured. “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” became the theme for the anniversary service Oct. 6 at Western Avenue Baptist Church in Statesville. The songs were intentionally chosen to speak of God’s faithfulness and His sustaining power in the midst of tragedy. It was a time dedicated to remember, to heal and to worship.
12. Same-sex marriage in N.C.
In May 2012, North Carolinians voted on the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman; it passed 61-39 percent. Of North Carolina’s 100 counties, the amendment passed in 93. On Oct. 6, 2014, United States Supreme Court justices denied review of decisions by three federal appeals courts’ overturning state laws that prohibited same-sex marriage. This denial meant that any state’s lower-court’s rulings are lawfully binding. A few days after the Supreme Court’s denial, U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn in Asheville, overturned the N.C. constitutional amendment passed in 2012. Cogburn’s refusal meant the state’s lower-court’s rulings are thereby lawful. By mid-October, Wake County issued approximately 90 licenses to same-sex couples.