April 2015

Lives being changed one sandwich at a time

April 2 2015 by Robert Chapman, SBTS Communications

The restaurant walls are covered with scripture verses. A Bible and calendar with daily devotions sit on each table.
 
The sign outside the building says Barry’s Cheese Steaks – a restaurant in Louisville, Ky. – but the employees and managers leaving their stations to pray with customers indicate that people find more than a steaming hot sandwich at the West End eatery.
 
A middle-aged black man comes from the kitchen with a wide smile, and greets all the customers as he asks them about their food. Barry Washington, 51, introduces himself. He seems like a typical owner, but anyone who knows him understands that few people expected him to reach this point in his life.
 
Born in Pittsburgh, Pa., he was adopted by Clyde and Anita Washington when he was two days old. Washington’s biological parents put him up for adoption because they were unable to raise a child. His mother was a 16-year-old prostitute, and his father was a pimp and drug dealer.

 
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SBTS photo
Owner Barry Washington relaxes at his West End restaurant, Barry’s Cheese Steaks.

Washington’s adopted parents raised him to know the Lord, but as he grew up, he rebelled against his parents’ teaching.
 
When he dropped out of school in the eighth grade, Washington began selling drugs and developed cocaine and heroin addictions by age 20. He grew tired of a life of crime, and attempted to improve his life.
 
“I moved up to Ypsilanti, Mich., to turn my life around,” Washington said. “I did good for a while, but then I got back into the same things. In 1986, I was sticking up drug dealers and I got jumped, stabbed 41 times, and left for dead.”
 
Still living a life of crime, Washington spent the next eight years traveling between Pennsylvania and Michigan. He continued to use and sell drugs, and his addictions worsened.
 
It was a week before Christmas 1995, when two men approached Washington.
 
“These two Nigerian men were witnessing to me and gave me $2 to get something to eat,” Washington said. “I went back and thanked them and they invited me to their fellowship, and that night I got saved. Then it was like the Lord literally walked me right up out of the drug addiction.”
 
Even though Washington became a Christian, he still struggled because the streets were the only world he knew. Washington also felt the call to return to Michigan, but did not want to go.
 
“I battled in my mind with the Lord, thinking that’s where I almost got killed – why would I go back?” Washington asked. “But the Holy Spirit kept pressing that that’s where I was going.” So on Jan. 1, 1996, he moved back to Michigan.
 

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SBTS photo
Bible verses and other inspirational thoughts decorate the walls of Barry’s Cheese Steaks.

While in Michigan, Washington began to learn how to read again and take his new faith seriously. He began to cook in restaurants and started attending the Tyndale Bible Institute, where he met Ron Horton and Ronald Author, both of whom became his mentors.
 
It was through this mentorship that Washington first heard about Boyce College, the undergraduate school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Author encouraged Washington to go to Boyce, despite his lack of education and age.
 
“The Lord blessed me to get my GED in 90 days,” Washington said. “So I came to Louisville and the highest grade I had completed was the eighth grade, and I probably had the reading level of a fifth grader. But the Lord has been good to me, and I learned things quick.”
 
Washington graduated from Boyce with an associate degree in 2000 before earning his bachelor’s in 2011. In 2004, Washington planted Redeemed Christian Church in Louisville’s West End, where he now pastors.
 
It was through the ministry of his church that Barry’s Cheese Steaks began as a way to keep kids from his community off the streets.
 
“We opened this place to give some of these young ones a chance to learn how to do something for themselves,” Washington said. “People think that everyone who comes from the West End is acting crazy, but we are going to show people that that’s not us.”
 
Even though the restaurant is a business, which Washington eventually wants to franchise, it is ultimately a ministry that strives to impact people through God’s Word. Washington trains the staff to be sensitive and willing to pray with people, and teaches the staff to serve God through serving other people. Other ministry opportunities come through the scripture verses that decorates the restaurant.
 
“We had a mother from Nigeria come in with five children who weren’t baptized and they were wanting to find out about baptism, and they ended up joining my church,” Washington said. “The scriptures and devotions posted all over the restaurant opens the door for people to ask questions and many end up going to my church or other churches.”
 
The ministry also impacts the employees as well. Wayne Blakely Jr. met Washington when he was 11 years old and began attending his youth group.
 
“I started to go to Barry’s church when my dad began to work on Sundays,” Blakely said. “Then he opened a summer camp, and I worked there. I began as volunteer janitor and worked my way up to staff leader.”
 
Blakely said Washington did not just give him a job, but saved him from a life of crime.
 
“Barry changed my life because if he had not come around I would still be in the gangs,” Blakely said.
 
“We are in the West End and all I had seen growing up was killings and drug deals. So I was going to be out there as a drug dealer trying to get some easy money.”
 
Washington has seen the Lord bring him and his ministry through many hardships and provide during the darkest of circumstances. Now he is praying that this growth will continue to allow him to impact the West End, and all of Louisville with the gospel.
 
“The Lord has been good and faithful in providing an increase and seeing things grow,” Washington said. “But we have a strong desire to cross zip codes. We must lose this West End mentality, and show people that there are Christian businesses all over Louisville.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Robert Chapman is a writer for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

4/2/2015 11:09:43 AM by Robert Chapman, SBTS Communications | with 0 comments



Kansas bans dismemberment abortions

April 1 2015 by Courtney Crandell, WORLD News Service/Baptist Press

Abortionists in Kansas will soon be banned from performing dismemberment abortions, thanks to legislation passed by the state legislature March 25.
 
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback promised in January he would sign the bill, making the state the first to ban abortions that tear children limb-from-limb in the womb. The federal government already criminalizes partial birth abortions, but dismemberment abortions – also known as dilation and evacuation abortions – are still legal. The legislation is part of a new strategy pioneered by National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). Kansans for Life (KFL) promoted the bill based on NRLC’s model legislation.

 
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“With the discussion about, and passage of this bill, the public will see that dismemberment abortions brutally – and unacceptably – rip apart small human beings who have all of their internal organs and who have perfectly formed fingers and toes,” KFL’s legislative director Kathy Ostrowski said.
 
About 8 percent of abortions in Kansas use the dilation and evacuation method. The new law now prohibits it except in cases threatening the mother’s life or irreversibly damaging her health. Dismemberment abortions occur after the first trimester when bones have already formed.
 
“Civilized members of society have no choice but to stand up and demand a change,” Mary Spaulding Balch, NRLC legislative director, said. “When you think it can’t be uglier, the abortion industry continues to shock with violent methods of abortion.”
 
Abortion rights advocates argued the procedure is sometimes the safest method and insisted the law would inhibit liberty. But Balch noted those arguments forget a key party in the discussion: the baby.
 
“When the national debate focuses only on the mother, it is forgetting someone,” Balch said. “The groundbreaking passage by the Kansas legislature ... has the potential to transform the debate when people realize that living unborn children are being killed by being torn limb-from-limb.”
 
Most Americans don’t know that dismemberment abortions are standard for second trimester abortions, Balch said in January. Because the baby’s skeleton is formed, abortionists can’t use aspiration abortions, which vacuum babies out of the womb. Instead, they must tear babies apart to remove them. Once the pieces are outside the womb, abortionists must re-assemble all the pieces to ensure the womb is empty – giving the method the nickname “jigsaw puzzle procedure.”
 
Pro-life leaders hope the Kansas law will help raise the public’s awareness about second-trimester abortions, especially if the law lands in court. NRLC leaders think it has a good chance of appearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, where two justices have already expressed their disgust for dismemberment abortions.
 
In the 2007 opinion on Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the partial-birth abortion ban, Justice Anthony Kennedy said dismemberment abortions are “laden with the power to devalue human life.” Even staunchly pro-abortion Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg voiced her disapproval in her dissenting opinion on the case, Balch said.
 
Kansas isn’t the only state to introduce the ban. Oklahoma’s House passed a similar bill, and the Senate will debate it this week. Lawmakers in Missouri and South Carolina also have also introduced dismemberment abortion ban legislation.
 
And Kansas pro-lifers aren’t stopping with this success: Other legislators indicated March 25 they want to prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Kansas Coalition for Life also is working to pass another bill that bans aspiration abortions.
 
“We look at Kansas as a leader in the pro-life movement,” dismemberment bill sponsor Sen. Garrett Love said earlier this year.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Courtney Crandell writes for WORLD News Service, an affiliate of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com.)

4/1/2015 1:01:37 PM by Courtney Crandell, WORLD News Service/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Muslim evangelism: earn ‘right to be heard’

April 1 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Because Muslims expect to be shunned as terrorists by citizens of Western nations, Christians can sometimes win them to Christ by showing them radical love and acceptance, former Muslim Afshin Ziafat said at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Leadership Summit on the gospel and racial reconciliation.
 
“My goal when talking to a Muslim is for them to see Jesus in me and then for me to share Jesus with them,” Ziafat, lead pastor of Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, said during a March 27 breakout session on Islam. “I don’t know any former Muslim who became a Christian who has said to me, ‘I was just cornered in a debate, and it made sense that Islam was crazy and I became a Christian.’ Every former Muslim that I know who’s a Christian – every one of them – points to a person” who loved them.
 
In a main session, Ziafat explained the biblical rationale for loving Muslims, noting that the gospel requires believers to share Christ in word and deed with people from different cultures and religions. Acts 10 and other scriptures make clear that God intends to save people from all races, Ziafat said.

 
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Photo by Alli Rader
“The gospel calls me to step out of my comfort zone and go out to people who don’t look like me,” Afshin Ziafat said March 27 at the ERLC Leadership Summit.

“If we go out with the message of reconciliation to people who don’t look like us, who don’t talk like us, who don’t dress like us, who are separated from us, we are living out the gospel,” Ziafat said. “Why? Because the greatest divide isn’t even a racial divide. The greatest divide of all time is the divide between Holy God and sinful man.” Yet Jesus loved those on the opposite side of the divide.
 
Ziafat is passionate about loving Muslims in part because the love of a Christian guided him to faith in Christ as a teenager in Houston. Born in Texas to an Iranian family, Ziafat moved to Iran at age 2 but escaped back to America with his family four years later during Iran’s Islamic Revolution, in which hardline Muslims seized control of the government.
 
“It was not easy in 1979 to be from Iran living in America,” Ziafat said.
 
Antagonism toward Iranians mounted when a group of Islamic Revolution supporters took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 52 American diplomats hostage for more than a year. Ziafat remembers hearing radio commentators call for the bombing of Iran. People threw rocks through the Ziafat family’s windows and slashed their tires because of their nationality, he said.
 
Meanwhile, Ziafat attended an American elementary school though he spoke only Farsi. His family paid a tutor to teach him English after school, and amid her teaching she gave him a New Testament with instructions to read it when he could understand. Ten years later, he read it and was saved.
 
“Had any other American given me that New Testament, I would have thrown it away because I didn’t trust them,” Ziafat said. “You want to win a Muslim for Christ? I believe you’ve got to earn the right to be heard. She did it by the way she was loving me.”
 
Ziafat hid his Christianity from his parents temporarily and was disowned by his father when they discovered it. The relationship was further strained when Ziafat revealed his call to Christian ministry and his father said, “I will always be ashamed of you.” Today Ziafat’s relationship with his father is restored, but his father has not accepted the gospel.
 
Ziafat’s personal struggle to be accepted helped convince him of the need for love toward Muslims. Among the ways he demonstrates love for Muslims today is by training Iranian believers how to share the gospel in their native country.
 
“If you’re only going to love people who deserve your love, well pat yourself on the back,” Ziafat said. “You just come up to the level of the world. But as life goes beyond that and you become exceptional and you start to reveal the gospel, then you go beyond loving people who deserve your love [to] loving people who don’t deserve it, maybe who are supposed to be our enemies.”
 
Reaching Muslims for Christ must begin with praying for them followed by serving them in practical ways, Ziafat said. Then Christians should look for opportunities to discuss the gospel. Key differences between Islam and Christianity can serve as points of discussion, he said. Among the differences noted by Ziafat:

  • In Islam, God is sovereign and completely set apart from humans without also being a loving heavenly Father to His people, as in Christianity.

  • Muslims believe humans are born sinless and judged on the basis of whether their good works exceed their sins. Christians believe humans are born in sin and saved by grace through faith alone.

  • Muslims believe Jesus was merely a human prophet, although He was sinless and born of a virgin. Christians believe Christ is the divine Son of God.

Believers should draw on the similarities between Islam and Christianity to introduce the gospel, Ziafat said. Passages in the Quran can be a useful tool in evangelism, he said, but he cautioned against treating the Quaran as an authoritative document.
 
“If I ever use the Quran [to witness], I use it in the way Paul used the inscription in Acts 17 and the way that he used the poetry of people in Acts ... as a bridge to get them to the Word of God,” Ziafat said.
 
Islam is not a “religion of peace,” but it is difficult to determine whether Islam endorses terrorism, Ziafat said, noting that the Quran includes verses that advocate peaceful conduct as well as verses saying those who do not believe in Allah should be put to death.
 
Asking the question, “does Islam espouse terrorism,” he said it is clear that many Muslims do not embrace terrorism but are still shunned because of a popular fear that all followers of Islam are radical jihadists, Ziafat said. A gospel witness to Muslims gains credibility when the believer sharing Christ meets Muslims’ deep need for friendship.
 
“The gospel calls me to step out of my comfort zone and go out to people who don’t look like me ... especially those who are my enemies, whom I am expected to hate,” Ziafat said. “When I show them love, the gospel is revealed.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/1/2015 12:49:07 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Schiavo case, 10 years later, still a ‘tragedy’

April 1 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The 10th anniversary of Terri Schiavo’s death has prompted discussions of marriage laws, the definition of a “good death” and even the pro-life record of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, an apparent frontrunner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
 
“Sadly, even now, after a decade of hindsight, we fail to see what led us to this tragedy,” Joe Carter, a communications specialist for Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, wrote on the ERLC website. “Many well-meaning people mistakenly believe the primary issue was about autonomy or the ‘right to die.’ But at its core, the Schiavo case was not about bioethics, living wills, or medical choice; it was about the failure to protect the institution of marriage.”
 
Schiavo died March 31, 2005, at age 41 some 15 years after collapsing in her St. Petersburg, Fla., home in cardiac arrest. After two and a half months in a coma, Schiavo appeared to improve and physicians diagnosed her as being in a “persistent vegetative state” – though other physicians disputed that diagnosis during legal proceedings.
 
Schiavo’s husband and legal guardian Michael Schiavo – who fathered two children with his live-in girlfriend after Terri’s collapse while remaining married to Terri – sought the removal of her feeding tube for nearly a decade. He contended Terri would not have wanted to live in her physical condition although she had left no written directive concerning end-of-life care.
 

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Terri Schiavo, right, with her mother Mary Schindler.

Michael Schiavo inherited more than $700,000 from Terri’s estate, money gained from a medical malpractice suit. The bulk of Michael Schiavo’s inheritance was used to pay his attorney fees, according to the pro-life organization Priests for Life.
 
Despite attempts to save Schiavo by her parents, the Florida state legislature, Jeb Bush, the U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush, her feeding tube was removed March 18, 2005. She died of starvation 13 days later. The case stirred a public debate between so-called “right to die” advocates and pro-life groups.
 
Carter said Schiavo’s death was due in part to the repeal of common law marriage and the adoption of no-fault divorce laws in Florida. Laws recognizing common law marriage might have helped acknowledge Michael Schiavo’s longstanding relationship with another woman as an illicit marriage. No-fault divorce laws prohibited courts from factoring Michael’s adultery into considerations of his moral fitness as Terri’s husband, Carter wrote.
 
Christians should advocate for reconstitution of common law marriage and repeal of no-fault divorce, Carter wrote. Common law marriage can still be contracted in at least eight states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. No-fault divorce is available in all 50 states.
 
“Even though Michael Schiavo had committed adultery, sired illegitimate children, and openly shared Terri’s marriage bed with another woman, he was still considered fit by the courts to undertake his role as a husband,” Carter wrote. “Under that role he was not only allowed to choose actions to be taken that would cause her death, but was allowed to benefit by inheriting her estate. In giving him guardianship over Terri while he lived as the cohabitating, common law ‘husband’ of another women, the Florida courts exposed the absurdity of modern marriage laws.”
 
Joni Hannigan, then-managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, covered Schiavo’s struggle for life extensively. Hannigan wrote in a 2006 Baptist Press column that the moral issues surrounding Schiavo’s death were clear.
 
“By the time I had read volumes of court transcripts, sat in court and listened to Michael Schiavo’s attorney, heard Schiavo speak at press conferences, and read excerpts of the attorney’s book representing his worldview, the coverage strategy I employed seemed elementary to me,” Hannigan wrote.
 
“My convictions led me to a conscientious approach to reporting that made me wary of seeking to promote views which openly condoned adultery and euthanasia. Simply put, I would not actively seek to give ink to Michael Schiavo’s distorted views of love and fidelity – and would not knowingly engage in unfruitful interviews with Schiavo’s attorney, whose pro-euthanasia views had been clearly established,” Hannigan wrote.
 

Jeb Bush

Reporting on Jeb Bush’s presumed quest for the White House, the Wall Street Journal wrote March 29, he “rarely, if ever, trumpets one of his most enduring conservative credentials: his years long effort to save Terri Schiavo.”
 
Bush, who was Florida’s governor when Schiavo died, fast-tracked a state law in 2003 requiring her feeding tube to be reinserted after a judge ordered its removal. When the Florida Supreme Court ruled “Terri’s Law” unconstitutional, Bush urged his brother, President George W. Bush, to take action on the federal level.
 
Asked in February whether he had any regrets related to his handling of the Schiavo case, Jeb Bush said according to the Journal, “No, I acted on my core belief that the most vulnerable in our society should be in the front of the line. They should receive our love and protection.”
 
In 2005, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 51 percent of Americans believed removing Schiavo’s feeding tube was “the right thing to do.”
 
A Bush spokeswoman told the Journal the former governor “believes it’s appropriate to err on the side of life and promote human dignity, especially in a situation that was as complicated as the Terri Schiavo case.”
 

A good death

Joy Riley, a physician who serves as executive director of the Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture, said it is difficult to formulate public policy or ethical principles based on a “hard case” like Schiavo’s. However, she said the 10th anniversary of Schiavo’s death is an appropriate occasion for Christians to reflect on the Bible’s teaching about death.
 
“Scripture teaches that the end of life, like the beginning of life and indeed like all of life, is in the hands of God,” Riley said. The Ten Commandments prohibit murder without a “distinction between murder of self and murder of others,” she said, noting that scriptural principles stand opposed to ending an ill or injured person’s life prematurely.
 
While Schiavo’s 15-year state of limited consciousness was unique, as was her experience of having a guardian who stood to benefit from her death, many people face lingering illnesses that stretch into months or even years. Riley offered medical and ethical advice to individuals facing end-of-life scenarios more typical than Schiavo’s.
 
The frequently expressed wish to die suddenly rather than from a protracted illness is not necessarily consistent with what followers of Christ have regarded as a “good death,” Riley said.
 
“Historically, people of faith have seen the blessing of having some time to prepare so that you ‘finish well’ by making amends with others ... preparing yourself to die, getting your affairs in order and spending time readying yourself to meet your maker and giver of life,” Riley said.
 
Causing death to occur with unnecessary swiftness may rob a person of the opportunity to experience the “kindness of God and others” at the end of life, Riley said.
 
Though doctors once spoke of whether to use “extraordinary measures” to extend life, that term is used less commonly today, Riley said. Instead, medical professionals evaluate the “burdens and benefits” of potential end-of-life therapies.
 
“Look at the proposed therapy and say, ‘What will this entail?’” Riley said. “Will this entail that the person be hospitalized, or will you have to drive 80 miles a day to the place where you can get it? Does it in any way oppress anybody?” Treatments that destroy embryos or impose excessive financial burdens qualify as oppressive, she said.
 
Questions to ask about the benefit of end-of-life therapies, Riley said, include, “Is it going to prolong the end of my life by months, perhaps years? Or is it more like days or weeks or even hours? What will the experience of my family be in helping me procure this therapy?”
 
Even individuals without medical training can ask intelligent questions and make biblical decisions, Riley said. She urged Christians to remember that life is brief and pray like Moses, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/1/2015 12:37:52 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



New York mayor renews pledge to churches

April 1 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Churches can continue to worship in New York public schools, at least temporarily, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to review a lower court decision barring worship services in schools there, Mayor Bill de Blasio said March 30.
 
The mayor’s pledge came within hours after the court decided, without comment, to leave in place a New York City Board of Education rule barring churches from worshipping in city schools. Even though the city has previously defended the rule set in place in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration, de Blasio issued a statement March 30 saying he would not evict churches from schools.
 
The de Blasio administration “remains committed to ensuring that religious organizations are able to use space in city schools on the same terms provided to other groups,” de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell said. “Now that litigation has concluded, the city will develop ‘rules of the road’ that respect the rights of both religious groups and non-participants.”

 

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Photo by Kevin Case
Despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said churches can continue meeting in school buildings temporarily.

New York Southern Baptist Pastor Ray Parascando applauded the mayor’s decision, but said the Supreme Court should have heard the case to set a proper precedent not dependent upon a politician’s whim.
 
“I think it sets a dangerous precedent and it sends a message that these matters are not important; they’re very important,” Parascando said, nonetheless voicing respect for the court. “As we saw in the last mayoral administration, Mayor Bloomberg really pressed the case, and churches were put out for a period of time. The next mayor, after mayor de Blasio, he or she could have an opinion that we don’t want churches there, and it could cause another problem and an upheaval.”
 
National leaders need to stand up as leaders on such important matters as religious freedom, said Parascando, pastor of Crossroads Church in Staten Island that met in Public School 52 for more than four years. Parascando estimates 65–80 churches currently worship and hold other gatherings in New York public schools.
 
“I think the more we try to strip away religious freedom or refuse to deal with it and deem it as unimportant, the more of a concern our country will have,” Parascando said. “It is disappointing that the Supreme Court doesn’t step up and protect our freedoms. Because after all, that should be one of the things they do.”
 
Parascando said he is looking forward to the ‘rules of the road’ de Blasio will set to regulate meetings in schools.
 
“Now as to what those rules are going to be, we hope they’ll be congruent with the mayor’s promise that religious worship can continue on school grounds,” Parascando said. “I await with eager expectation to see those rules and to make sure that they are not something that would infringe upon our beliefs, but encourage us to practice them.”
 
But even if de Blasio keeps his pledge, things could change during the next mayor’s term, Parascando said.
 
“That’s why the Supreme Court needs to rule on it. If you remember in Genesis, Joseph [Jacob’s son] had so much favor. And then in Exodus,” it says the new pharaoh did not know Joseph, Parascando said.
 
Crossroads Church has moved its worship services to a former theater, but still uses a public school to hold a month-long summer camp, and Friday evening youth programs on alternating weekends.
 
“Even though we have a place where we meet for church, we’re still very involved with the school and using it. And then, the church since 2006 has painted public schools for free. It’s a unique partnership we have where we do it in all five Burroughs,” Parascando said. “So even though this has happened, we’ve still remained committed to painting and caring for the schools, regardless of what at the time Mayor Bloomberg was doing, or now the Supreme Court. We’ve had a connection and a strong love for public schools, the students, the faculty, and the department of education, before all of this happened, and we’ll continue to have it well after decisions are made.”
 
In a February Bloomberg News report, de Blasio voiced his support for churches to meet in schools, even after his administration defended the ban in court.
 
“This is something that, for years and years, went on in our schools without contradicting the separation between church and state, based on a group having to apply, having to wait its turn in line, having to pay rent,” Bloomberg news reported.
 
In the case, Bronx Household of Faith vs. Board of Education of the City of New York, the de Blasio administration defended the ban “to preserve its prerogative to issue rules governing the use of public school facilities after hours by various groups, including faith-based organizations,” de Blasio’s spokesman said in a February report in Bloomberg News.
 
In a Jan. 12 brief presented to the court, the city said the board’s “decision to make public schools available to religious organizations for a wide range of activities, but not for worship services or as a house of worship, is constitutional,” World News reported. “The policy does not prohibit, limit, or burden any religious practice; does not entangle the government in matters of religion; and does not impair petitioners’ ability to speak freely.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

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4/1/2015 12:25:19 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Diversity still needed, SBC leaders say

April 1 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) progress in racial reconciliation will fall short of what is needed if it is measured by the one-time election of an African-American president, speakers said at a leadership summit.
 
A panel of Southern Baptist leaders commented on the status of race relations in the convention during a March 27 discussion at “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation,” a two-day meeting sponsored by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in Nashville.
 
Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, replayed briefly for attendees his 2012 election as the first black president of a convention that was started in 1845 by a breakaway group of Baptists who supported the appointment of slave owners as missionaries. He recalled a conversation he had with Charles Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, when no other nominees had surfaced to challenge him in the race a month before the annual SBC meeting.
 
“Fred, I just think our convention feels that it’s time,” Luter quoted Kelley as saying.
 
Luter’s election by acclamation was greeted by an emotional, standing ovation. “It was one of the greatest hours in the life of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Luter told the audience. “My only concern is that hopefully it’s not the last time.”
 
ERLC President Russell Moore quickly seconded Luter’s concern.

 
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Black, white, Asian and Iranian pastors and leaders addressed racial disunity Friday (March 27) during the 2015 Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Leadership Summit in Nashville. Those pictured include(left to right) Russell Moore, Frank Page, Fred Luter Jr., and K. Marshall Williams.

“[T]hat’s where the real test is,” Moore said. “We’ve got the pictures of the presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention [in the SBC building in Nashville]. Let’s come back in 20 years, and if Fred Luter is an island in a sea of middle-aged white guys, that means we have not been where we need to be. Just because [black artist] Charley Pride’s in the Country Music Hall of Fame, that doesn’t mean it’s diverse.
 
“We can’t say, ‘Because this happened, now we’ve settled this issue.’ This is an ongoing issue of leadership in our convention.”
 
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, told attendees he does not want Luter “to be an anomaly.”
 
“He was a great, great president,” Page said of Luter. “And I want to see that day come when it’s not atypical, it’s normal to see a person of color as president.”
 
The candidates are available, Luter and Page said.
 
“There’s a lot of qualified African-American pastors in this convention,” Luter told an audience that numbered 550 registrants, “and even those on whose shoulders I have stood before I became president of the Southern Baptist Convention who put their blood, sweat and tears into this convention, and for whatever reason God allowed it to happen to me.”
 
Southern Baptists “have a number of great” African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American and other ethnic leaders, Page said.
 
Racial representation, however, has “got to be at every other level of SBC life,” he said.
 
That does not mean the convention should add a quota system, Page said. “We don’t want that, but we want there to be such an openness that it becomes just what happens. Great, great leaders rise to the top.
 
“I want to see the day when our boards and agencies and our employment at all our agencies look like our convention and look like our nation,” he said. “We have a long way to go.”
 
Racial reconciliation in the SBC could have a much wider impact, said K. Marshall Williams, senior pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., and president of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) of the SBC.
 
“I believe that God is calling this convention to lead this nation in revival, and if we get [reconciliation] straight, when we get this straight, we’ll see revival break out all over,” he said.
 
Williams expressed encouragement about the building of relationships across racial lines and the advancement of African Americans into senior management positions at SBC entities.
 
“We’re beginning to build relationships where we can know our brother’s heart and be able to take the next step and ... speak the truth in love and talk about the tough things based on what the Scripture says and challenge one another to be in accord with the Word of God so that we might be used by God,” Williams said.
 
Southern Baptists already are “the most ethnically diverse denominational convention in this continent with nobody even coming close,” Page said.
 
One in five Southern Baptist congregations is predominantly African American or otherwise ethnic in its makeup, Page said. That includes about 3,000 black churches, more than 2,000 Hispanic churches and more than 2,000 Asian churches, Page said. Other churches are “extremely multi-ethnic,” he told the audience. More than 100 language groups are represented each Sunday in SBC churches, he said.
 
Luter and Williams explained to attendees how their churches came to be identified with the SBC.
 
Franklin Avenue Baptist Church was already Southern Baptist when it became predominantly black in the early 1980s. A National Baptist by background, Luter “had no clue” about the SBC’s pro-slavery background when he became pastor of Franklin Avenue in 1986, he said.
 
“I loved the things that this convention was doing – their love for missions, their love for outreach, their love for people really spoke a lot to me,” Luter said. When several members wanted to withdraw from the SBC in 1988, he recalled, “I looked at this congregation that I loved and said, ‘Listen, all of us have got a history. I’ve got a history. You’ve got a history. ... Folks, there’s nothing we can do about our past, but there’s a whole lot we can do about our future.’
 
“And in 1988 I said that, not knowing that one day I would be president of this convention.”
 
Williams said Nazarene Baptist Church was an independent Baptist church before becoming a SBC congregation. He was seeking a convention of churches focused on God’s Word, he told attendees.
 
“We joined the Southern Baptist Convention so it would be a reciprocal relationship,” Williams said. “Because Nazarene Baptist Church joined the Southern Baptist Convention, Nazarene Baptist Church would be better, better equipped to do the work of the ministry. And because Nazarene Baptist Church joined the Southern Baptist Convention, the Southern Baptist Convention would be better. We would bring something to the table.
 
‘[I]t’s been a great relationship,” he said. “And I think one of the things that has helped us is to get involved and build relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ that may not look like us, may not worship like us, because we all come from one blood, same Spirit, same Scriptures.”
 
Luter’s election came 17 years after SBC messengers approved a resolution repenting of the convention’s pro-slavery and racist past upon its 150th anniversary.
 
The ERLC initially planned for its 2015 leadership summit to be on pro-life ethics but announced in December it was changing the theme to racial reconciliation in the wake of grand jury decisions in the police killings of black men that provoked widespread protests and a nationwide discussion. The shift in plans followed decisions by grand juries in St. Louis County and New York City not to indict police in the high-profile deaths of African-American men.
 
Panelists in a March 26 discussion at the leadership summit assessed the state of racial reconciliation in America.
 
Moore and Thabiti Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C., identified both positive and negative signals from the national debate in recent months.
 
“I am greatly encouraged by the number of people who are mustering courage to have the conversation and the number of people who are – as they muster courage – confessing really hard things to confess but are demonstrating some commitment to the truth,” Anyabwile said, adding he also is encouraged by the leadership of some pastors and churches.
 
“[W]hat has been discouraging to me has been the discovery of what I can only characterize as continuing, lingering racism,” he said. “That’s discouraging among confessing Christian people in particular.”
 
Anyabwile also expressed discouragement “with the inability that some people have to disagree without being disagreeable.”
 
He concluded, “We don’t ultimately have any reason for despair in these conversations. We can be the most real people in this world because we know that Christ is at work in these conversations. So there is discouragement on the one hand but many signs of great hope that we should give God praise for.”
 
Moore said he is discouraged by some of his mail.
 
“That’s discouraging to see that there are still sentiments out there that are so gospel unformed that they could have been written in a pamphlet with the White Citizens Council in 1964 Mississippi” by church members, he said. Yet, the work of God across racial differences in some churches is encouraging, he said.
 
With the national debate in recent months, “perhaps what the Lord is doing in several of these situations is enabling those of us who are in the church to start listening to one another,” Moore said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

 

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4/1/2015 12:13:59 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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