Year in Review: Issues in 2016 that affected lives and ministries
BR staff
December 27, 2016

Year in Review: Issues in 2016 that affected lives and ministries

Year in Review: Issues in 2016 that affected lives and ministries
BR staff
December 27, 2016

Hurricane Matthew slammed the eastern part of the U.S. in early October, prompting North Carolina Baptist Men and a host of volunteers to serve those affected by the storm, both inside and outside the state. In the midst of Matthew recovery efforts, N.C. Baptists also volunteered to feed firefighters in the western part of the state as fires ripped through the mountains.

Even as 2016 was winding down, House Bill 2 continued to be a hot political topic in North Carolina. On the national level, Donald Trump’s winning presidential bid stirred controversy among Southern Baptists right up to the time the “year in review” issue was printed, and it’s likely to continue well into 2017. There were many issues that grabbed attention over the last 12 months. The Biblical Recorder is listing a select number of the top stories for your reading pleasure.

Donald Trump’s election exposes SBC rift

When then-presidential-frontrunner (now president-elect) Donald Trump addressed thousands of young evangelicals at Liberty University in January 2016, conservative Christians renewed discussion of whether political support for the real estate mogul can be consistent with a Christian worldview. Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. said Trump’s propensity to speak his mind reminds him of his late father Jerry Falwell Sr., a Baptist pastor who was active in conservative politics during the 20th century. Other evangelicals weighing in on Trump’s candidacy included pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas.

While not officially endorsing Trump, he said he “would be very comfortable with Mr. Trump as president.” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, consistently opposed the assertion that Christians should support Trump’s candidacy throughout the election season. Moore even drew direct criticism from Trump on social media. “Russell Moore is truly a terrible representative of Evangelicals and all of the good they stand for. A nasty guy with no heart!” Trump tweeted. The Wall Street Journal and other major news outlets reported Dec. 19 that some Southern Baptists are calling for Moore’s resignation due to his opposition to Trump.

Baptists confront refugee crisis

A team of North Carolina Baptists volunteered at the Greek border crossing to the former Yogoslavic Republic of Macedonia, where they aided desperate migrants and shared a message of hope in early February. The team’s primary job was to help a local, non-governmental aid organization (NGO) relay important information and resources to incoming refugees. They offered basic guidance in the Eidomeni camp, including directions to food, bathrooms, clothing and doctors. The team also supplied practical items like plastic handbags and helped prepare food for distribution.

A luncheon focused on migrant ministry took place during the 2016 annual meeting of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Standing in front of a banner with “Hallelujah” painted in various languages, Phil Kitchin, former pastor of Clarkston International Bible Church in Clarkston, Ga., challenged attendees of the Heavenly Banquet to actively see and serve refugees and immigrants coming to North Carolina. Kitchin spoke from Luke 10, drawing on the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate what it takes to reach and care for immigrants and refugees in the state. The first step N.C. Baptists must take, he said, is to stop and look. He acknowledged that many in the hall were pastors of ethnic churches and encouraged them to look beyond their own familiar places.

Bathroom law dominates N.C. politics

North Carolina lawmakers passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Securities Act (commonly known as HB 2) in a special session March 23, requiring state agencies to designate single-sex bathrooms and changing facilities for use according to biological sex as indicated by birth certificate. The controversial law overturned a sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council. The SOGI policy would have allowed transgender people to access the bathrooms, locker rooms or other public accommodations according to their gender of choice.

Critics lobbied against the bill, calling it discriminatory and prompting businesses, performing artists and others to boycott the state. Exit polls suggested support for the bill cost N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory a reelection bid even as fellow Republicans swept state and national elections across the country in 2016. HB 2 supporters said Charlotte’s ordinance would endanger women and children by potentially allowing sexual predators to exploit the policy.

Churches respond to police violence, attacks

Churches across the Charlotte area held special prayer services and planned outreach events in late September amid protests and riots after the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott. Holding interracial prayer gatherings, ministering to grieving police officers in the emergency room and hosting a question-and-answer session with police are among the ways Dallas-area Southern Baptists responded to the violent killings of five police officers July 7. The assassinations, apparently committed by a suspect who reportedly told police he wanted to kill white people, occurred within days of police killing two black civilians under questionable circumstances – Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile of the Minneapolis area. Congregations in Baton Rouge responded similarly to the shooting deaths of two local police officers later in the month, holding prayer gatherings and calling for racial reconciliation.

Can sex offenders go to church?

A legislative amendment went into effect Sept. 1 that clarifies a North Carolina law barring registered sex offenders with an offense against a minor from coming within 300 feet of areas designated for children. The change came in response to two federal injunctions against the law. The most recent ruling struck down the proximity clause of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-208.18(a) because it violated the First Amendment. The 300-foot rule effectively fences many church properties, along with other public spaces such as libraries, parks and courthouses, when child-care facilities or youth educational spaces are located nearby.

Judge James A. Beaty Jr. of the Middle District of North Carolina ruled April 22 that the clause was “unconstitutionally overbroad.” He said it restricted “significant First Amendment activity” – such as church attendance – for registered sex offenders who have not committed an offense against a minor. The amendment, which was signed into law July 21 by Gov. Pat McCrory, narrows the 300-foot rule’s application to sex offenders deemed by a criminal or civil proceeding to be a “danger to minors.”

Overtime regulations draw church attention, legal questions

The Biblical Recorder reported in June that changes to federal labor laws could affect churches and other ministries. Some human resources experts were initially unsure whether the updated overtime regulations would apply to employees of religious organizations, but many Southern Baptist leaders began urging churches to review and update personnel policies to ensure compliance. The new labor laws were put under preliminary injunction by a federal judge a week before they were set to take effect Dec.1.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced May 18 that it was updating overtime regulations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to “simplify and modernize” the rules. Salaried employees making less than $47,476 annually ($913 per week) would be eligible for overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours per week, according to new federal labor protections. GuideStone Financial Resources, the financial services auxiliary of the Southern Baptist Convention, posted an overview of the new changes to its website Oct. 17, outlining how the overtime rules would apply to ministries.

Marijuana legalization spreads

Eight of the nine states with marijuana-related ballot measures Nov. 8 expanded legalization of the drug. Of the five states to consider recreational marijuana legalization for adults, only Arizona rejected it. California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada all voted in favor of legalization. All four states to consider medical marijuana – Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota – voted either to legalize or expand its use. Montana approved medical marijuana in 2004, but the state legislature enacted limitations on its use five years ago. The other three states granted approval for the first time.

Assisted suicide makes ballots

Colorado voters overwhelmingly legalized physician-assisted suicide Nov. 8, joining five other states where similar laws already exist. The Colorado End of Life Options Act, on the ballot as Proposition 106, passed by a two-thirds margin. Before the vote, assisted death in the state had been a crime of felony manslaughter. The new law gives adult patients access to “medical aid-in-dying medication.” And it allows terminally ill patients with under six months to live, as diagnosed by at least two physicians, to self-administer drugs prescribed by a physician to induce “peaceful death,” according to the law posted on the Colorado Legislature website. Patients choosing death must be at least 18 years old, must have the “mental capacity” to decide to end their life and must not make such a request based on their age or disability, the law stipulates. The initiative was designed after Oregon’s 1994 Death With Dignity Act, the first in the nation to legalize the practice, although its enforcement was delayed three years by a court injunction. California, Montana, Vermont and Washington also allow assisted death.

Courts take up transgender bathroom case

The Supreme Court announced Oct. 28 it will review a lower court opinion regarding the right of a student to use the public school restroom that matches her gender identity rather than her biological sex. Oral arguments in the case likely will take place in early 2017, and an opinion is expected before the court adjourns next summer. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled in April the school board of an eastern Virginia county violated federal law by refusing to permit transgender students to use the restrooms of the gender with which they identify, regardless of their biological sex. In a 2-1 opinion overturning a federal court, the Fourth Circuit panel ruled the ban on sex discrimination in the Title IX education amendments encompasses gender identity.

About a month later, the Obama administration issued a sweeping directive on transgender rights. Officials with the Departments of Education and Justice told public school districts, as well as colleges and universities, to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity. The guidance was not legally binding, but it implied noncompliance could result in the loss of federal aid. With transgender rights on the ascendance, proponents of biblical sexuality welcomed the high court’s decision to rule on the case out of Virginia.

Churches respond to Gatlinburg fires

Wildfires in and around the east Tennessee resort area of Gatlinburg destroyed the facilities of at least one Southern Baptist church, claimed buildings at two other churches and prompted local believers to launch relief ministries. The reported 14 blazes near Gatlinburg Nov. 29 were among a series of wildfires across the southeast this fall that have led Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units to deploy in Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.