April 2016

Pennsylvania church shooter charged with manslaughter

April 29 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A member of a Philadelphia Southern Baptist church has been charged with voluntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the shooting death of a fellow church member during a worship service April 24.
Mark Storms, 46, allegedly shot and killed 27-year-old Robert Braxton during an altercation in the worship center of Keystone Fellowship’s campus in North Wales, Pa., shortly after the 11 a.m. service began.
Keystone released a statement to Baptist Press April 28 thanking Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele’s office “for its careful and thorough work in processing the evidence pertaining to this case.” The congregation also thanked “our community for the tremendous outpouring of support during this difficult time.”
According to reports by the Associated Press and the Philadelphia Inquirer, Braxton allegedly became disruptive when a fellow worship attendee told him he was in an occupied seat. After church leaders tried unsuccessfully to calm Braxton, Storms showed Braxton his permit to carry a firearm and asked him to leave.
Braxton then punched Storms in the face, and Storms shot him twice with a semi-automatic handgun, the Inquirer reported. Steele said Storms, who had no official position in the church, told police he was “trying to stop him because I was afraid he was going to hurt me and other people.”
Steele told reporters, “It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to bring a gun to church.” He added that the manner in which Storms flashed his carry permit could have given people the incorrect impression he had an official role in law enforcement or with the church.
Keystone said it has not answered questions about the shooting “out of respect for the investigation being conducted by the district attorney” and “as [Steele’s office] requested of us.”
“We were asked to allow them to conduct their investigation unimpeded by our interference, and we were asked by them to allow them to release these details at the appropriate time,” the church stated. “In the meantime, we have been focused exclusively on ministering to the hurting, especially the Braxton family. It is the district attorney’s job to administer justice, and it is our job to help those affected cope with this terrible tragedy. We have been ‘weeping with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15).”
Storms was arraigned April 28 and ordered held in lieu of $250,000 bail.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)


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4/29/2016 12:00:11 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Potential church planters get enhanced screening

April 29 2016 by NAMB Communications Staff

Church planter Bryan Bair became involved in Southern Baptist life as a youth when he accepted the invitation to join a friend at church. God called Bair into ministry at a Southern Baptist church and he had served in Southern Baptist churches for nearly two decades.
But the 38-year-old, who was in the beginning stages of planting South Point Church in Tallahassee, Fla., was thinking long and hard about whether the new outreach should be part of a denomination.
While he appreciated the theology of Southern Baptists, he wondered about the convention’s commitment to engage the culture and plant churches.
Then he attended the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) reconstituted Send Network Church Planter Assessment last October.


NAMB photo by John Swain
Assessment and training of new Southern Baptist church planters, gathering at the Atlanta-area North American Mission Board in January, has been enhanced by assessors who provide more comprehensive guidance to prospective planters and their wives.

After that, he no longer doubted.
“The assessment rejuvenated my faith in SBC life and its leadership,” said Bair, now a church planter partnering with the Florida Baptist Convention. “First, I saw there was a plan there. Second, I could see they were serious about the gospel and wanted to engage the culture and reach the lost.”
Bair appreciated the intensity of NAMB’s assessment; he even went back to the assessors for a second round of critique after sharing his vision with them. It helped him develop a more concise explanation of that vision – one of his key takeaways from the experience.
About half of church planter prospects like Bair pass the assessment, receiving either a “green” or a “yellow” light to move forward.
The two-day church planting assessment retreats – which include both the church planter and his wife – begin before candidates ever arrive on site with a series of online pre-assessments. Once the couple arrives, a team of eight trained evaluators conducts a series of large-group experiences and one-on-one interviews with the candidates focused around nine different traits. To best serve the sending church, the pastor – or someone from the staff – also attends the retreat to observe the evaluation process. Each assessment usually has about six couples.
As part of the evaluation of a planter’s communication skills, candidates preach in front of the rest of the group and the assessors. They also set forth the vision for their church plant in a large group format where the assessors hear the vision and ask questions afterward.
The Launch Network, birthed in the metro Atlanta area in 2011, created the outline and much of the content for the new assessment process. From 2011 to 2014, just under 200 planters went through the assessment before the process and resources expanded to NAMB in 2015.
At the end of the two days, prospective planters receive one of four outcomes. Planters given a “Ready” (green light) are invited to join a collaborative training cohort to further prepare to launch a church in the next six to 18 months. Planters given a “Ready with Conditions” (yellow light) are generally strong candidates but with an area they need to work on as they move forward. The assessors give these planters a plan for their development, and they too are invited to join a training cohort to prepare to plant in the next six to 18 months. So far, about half of the planters assessed fall into the first two categories.
A prospective planter could also receive “Further Development Needed” (orange light) in which he is encouraged to slow down and work through areas where he needs more time and growth before moving forward. These planters are given a development plan and a time frame in which they could go through a reassessment interview in the future. The last recommendation is “Cautioned” (red light). Candidates receiving this recommendation are encouraged to take church planting off their radar for an extended period of time, work through their development plans and consider other areas of ministry.
Jeff Christopherson, vice president of NAMB’s Send Network for church planting across North America, said the tougher assessment allows NAMB to be better stewards of Southern Baptist funds – and people.
“We really want to put the resources in the hands of leaders who are probably going to have the best chance of succeeding,” Christopherson said.
But, he added, it’s also about helping the 50 percent of planters who won’t pass the assessment.
“I have a list of leaders I know who have started to plant churches, haven’t succeeded and aren’t in ministry anymore,” Christopherson said. “That’s a long, long list. I know a man who has a list of three pages on a legal pad of people he can account for who aren’t in ministry and started out as church planters.
“You need to be called to a life of a church planter. Just because God doesn’t call you to be a lead church planter doesn’t mean that He doesn’t have a wonderful plan for you in ministry,” Christopherson said.
Scott Kearney, who participated in an assessment in Boston last October, expects to plant a church in Nashua, N.H., later this year. He said the assessment helped him and his wife, noting that church planters’ wives often miss out on training and input as they prepare for a new stage of ministry.
“Charity and I have conversations about things we were not talking about before, whether it was leadership issues or expectations in ministry,” Kearney said. “How does she feel called into church planting? Her sense of calling was different than mine. And what were my expectations of her that I didn’t know I had? That was huge for us.”
After the assessment, Kearney received a recommendation to be a part of training with several other planters who meet every other week to discuss areas of growth and further reading.
“It’s awesome that NAMB wants to invest in planters and not just send them out shotgun approach,” Kearney said. “It builds into us in a pretty big way and ultimately helps those we’ll be serving.”
To learn how to be more involved in church planting in North America, visit sendme.namb.net.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the communications staff of the North American Mission Board.)

4/29/2016 11:54:52 AM by NAMB Communications Staff | with 0 comments

Tennessee Christian counselors get ‘added protection’

April 29 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A Tennessee law allowing licensed counselors to opt out of serving patients whose goals “conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor” has drawn praise from two Southern Baptist mental health care professionals despite the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) condemnation of the measure as discriminatory against homosexuals.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed Senate Bill 1556 into law April 27, noting it does not leave anyone without mental health care. The law takes effect immediately.
“There are two key provisions of this legislation that addressed concerns I had about clients not receiving care,” Haslam, a Republican, said according to The Tennessean. “First, the bill clearly states that it ‘shall not apply to a counselor or therapist when an individual seeking or undergoing counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.’ Secondly, the bill requires that any counselor or therapist who feels they cannot serve a client due to the counselor’s sincerely held principles must coordinate a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.
“The substance of this bill doesn’t address a group, issue or belief system,” Haslam said. “Rather, it allows counselors – just as we allow other professionals like doctors and lawyers – to refer a client to another counselor when the goals or behaviors would violate a sincerely held principle.”
Chuck Hannaford, a Southern Baptist clinical psychologist in Germantown, Tenn., said the law is a form of “consumer protection” for counseling patients.
Mental health care in Tennessee, Hannaford said, is legally regulated in part by the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics, which requires counselors to operate from a “value-neutral” perspective, seeing all prospective clients at least once regardless of their problems or value systems.
Under the code, a counselor can refer a patient outside his or her field of expertise to another counselor, but the referral cannot be based solely on values or religious beliefs – a requirement added to the code in 2014. The Tennessee law now stipulates that violating that portion of the code does not constitute a basis for government action against a counselor.
Such requirements decrease the quality of mental health care in Tennessee and helped inspire the new law, said Hannaford, president of Heartlife Professional Soul Care.
“If the ACA says that I have to be value-neutral and I have to see anybody that comes through the door in private practice,” he said, “then the quality of service across the board in the state of Tennessee would be diminished tremendously.”
Hannaford added, “Why would you force me, as a clinician, to deal with somebody when it’s against my value system? There’s a potential for me to do harm to that person because I’m supposed to be self-aware as a clinician. I’m supposed to understand my limits.”
Art Terrazas, an ACA spokesman, said the Tennessee bill “originally was put in place and proposed by a group that did not like ... the LGBT group.” The measure, he said, could undermine the goal of helping people become mentally healthy.
The law’s allowance for refusing service based on any “sincerely held principles,” Terrazas said, “gives the counselor such wide latitude. If the counselor’s personal belief is that African American people shouldn’t seek counseling ... [or] if you’re a woman, they can turn you away. If you’re left-handed. Even if you’re a Christian, you could be turned away.
“There’s a huge possible negative cascading effect that could occur because of this,” Terrazas said.
Jason Gibson, director of the Babb Center, a counseling ministry extension of First Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., said fears that Christian counselors will discriminate against anyone are misplaced.
“Christ calls us to meet everyone right where they are,” Gibson said. “The Babb Center sees people from all walks of life and is committed to meeting them where they are while encouraging them to recognize the truth in God’s Word. A Christ mandate is against all those discriminatory things people are worried about.”
The Tennessee law “should have been unnecessary,” Gibson said, but is “an added legal protection” to ensure all counselors will be permitted to operate according to their value systems.
The law “does not change how we’ve been operating or how we will operate,” Gibson said of the Babb Center. “It’s nice to have some added protection, but we feel called to meet people right where they are to give them hope and love in the midst of what’s going on in their lives.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/29/2016 11:51:11 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ark Encounter gets tax incentive up to $18.25M

April 29 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The Kentucky tourism authority has granted the Answers in Genesis (AiG) apologetics ministry a tax incentive that could top $18 million for its Ark Encounter museum opening July 7 in Williamstown.
The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority approved the incentive at its April 25th meeting, ending a years-long AiG battle with the state for the incentive that allows developers of certain tourism projects to recover up to 25 percent of the project’s development costs over a 10-year span.


This screen capture from an Answers in Genesis video shows the progress of the Ark Encounter’s construction as of April. Opening date is July 7.

The approval followed a Jan. 25 federal appeals court decision requiring the state to grant the incentive that AiG had sued to obtain. The state had argued that AiG would use religion to discriminate in hiring employees, and that the use of tax incentives to advance religion violated state law.
Newly elected Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin chose not to contest the January court ruling. The tourism authority, with four new members appointed by Bevin, approved the incentive 7-0 with two members absent, the Courier-Journal newspaper reported.
Through a $62 million bond offering and $33.5 million in donations, AiG has raised $93.2 million of the $95.5 million goal to fund the museum’s construction, said president, CEO, and founder of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham said, emphasizing the incentive is not being used to fund the project. Instead, businesses must operate for a full year before beginning to receive rebates from the incentive.
“A lot of the atheists and some of the secular media were claiming for the last couple of years now, that we’re using tax-payer money … to build the ark,” Ham said. “Well, the tourism tax incentive didn’t even get approved until this past Monday, so it has nothing to do with building the ark. This is a performance-based incentive, and it’s only a rebate on the sales taxes paid within the facility once you open, and it’s up to a certain maximum over 10 years.”
AiG has estimated the rebate could amount to as much as $18.25 million, based on attendance projections and the cost of the project’s first phase. Still, the incentive was a contributing factor to AiG’s decision to build the ark in Kentucky.
“We commissioned a specialist in real estate to look for properties” in the tri-state area of Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky, Ham said. “The tourism tax incentive was certainly a ... significant factor in the choosing of the property.”
AiG did not apply for the tax incentive for its first project in Kentucky, the Creation Museum in nearby Petersburg, which AiG said has attracted over 2.5 million guests since opening in 2007.


Answers in Genesis photo
This 2015 photo shows construction underway on the Ark Encounter, Answers in Genesis’ life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark in Williamsburg, Ky.

“When we first came out here and looked for a place to build the Creation Museum,” Ham said, “we just did not know about the incentive” that must be applied for before construction begins.
The Ark Encounter is a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark with 140,000 square feet of exhibit space inside. It is flanked by a 1,500-seat restaurant, a lodge, a small zoo and other amenities.
Ham hopes the ark and upcoming phases of the biblical theme park, including a World City, a Tower of Babel and a First Century Village, will spur interest in the Bible and encourage many to accept the gospel.
“The secularists have been trying to shut down people talking about the Bible, talking about Christianity,” Ham said. “[AiG wants] to do something that will impact the public with the Christian message, in other words, get them talking about it, and the ark certainly will.
“From what our research indicates, up to 2 million people a year could come to this,” he said. “I think it will be one of the greatest Christian outreaches of our era. I don’t think there’s any other Christian attraction like this ... that would impact that many people.”
The Ark Encounter will offer day and night attendance during its first 40 days of operation, evoking the 40 days and nights of rain from which Noah’s ark provided protection. Tickets will allow attendance from 9 a.m.-4 p.m., or 5 p.m.-12 a.m.
“While the Ark Encounter will be able to accommodate 16,000 guests per day, our consultant’s research has shown that we could possibly expect more than that during the first few weeks of opening, especially during the summer time frame,” Ham said. “So, to make sure this themed attraction remains an enjoyable experience for everyone, we are adding a nighttime shift for the first 40 days.”
Its July 7th opening is also significant.
“We are so excited that the construction progress and schedule landed on this 7/7 date,” Ham said in an AiG press release. “Genesis 7:7 states that Noah and his family entered the ark. So it’s fitting we allow the public to enter the life-size Ark on 7/7.”
Ham expects construction on the ark itself to be complete by the end of May, with landscaping and construction of amenities continuing up until the opening. The ark is slated to employ 35-40 full time workers and 300–400 seasonal staff.
The second phase of the project, a World City, will display life as it would have been in Noah’s house and city, Ham said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)


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4/29/2016 11:42:41 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Atheists plan billboards against Ark museum

April 29 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A small group of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana atheists has launched a campaign to buy billboards mocking the message of the Answers in Genesis (AiG) Ark Encounter museum and its July 7 opening.
The 1,500-member Tri-State Freethinkers have raised $10,000 to post negative billboards near the life-sized recreation of Noah’s Ark and to, as their Indiegogo funding page asserts, “drive our billboard around the Ark Encounter every weekend for the entire summer.”
Others not specifically identified with Tri-State Freethinkers have attacked the Ark Encounter with posts on Twitter, accusing God of genocide and questioning the plausibility of the Genesis account.
Conversely, the AiG apologetics ministry has raised $62 million from a bond offering and $33.5 million in donations to build the museum and other attractions just 40 miles from its museum that has attracted 2.5 million visitors since 2007.


Answers in Genesis photo
An artist’s rendering depicts the Ark Encounter set to open July 7 in Williamstown, Ky.

AiG founder and president Ken Ham continues to defend biblical truth.
“This new atheist billboard campaign highlights how intolerant these secularists are of Christians exercising their right to freedom of religion – and also highlights how inconsistent they are in their beliefs,” Ham said in an April 21st blog post. “They don’t want people to be exposed to the truth of God’s Word.”
“It’s interesting that atheists, who have no foundation for moral absolutes except their own opinion, are accusing the holy and just God – who as Creator has every right to punish sin – of being immoral,” Ham said. “But how do they define immoral? Well, the only way to do that is to appeal to moral absolutes – which are found in God’s Word.”
Tri-State Freethinkers President Jim Helton called the Genesis account of the flood a myth, and describes the Ark Encounter as “immoral and highly inappropriate as family entertainment.” A $500 donation will garner donors a personal image on a billboard, depicting them looking up at the ark as they drown, a predicament Helton termed an “honor.”
“We want to raise enough money to put up billboards all over the area to let people be aware of how horrible this story in the Bible actually is. The more money we get, the more billboards we can put up in all different areas,” Helton said in video at Indiegogo. “In addition too, we want to do a counter protest on their opening day, throw a huge party and invite all the free thinkers and atheists to come from all over and show support for reason and logic and not superstition and myths.”
Three donors have paid enough to be depicted drowning, according to the Indiegogo page.
Among the many Ark Encounter supporters, Commonwealth Policy Center director Richard Nelson said the atheists’ efforts are only providing free advertising for the museum and park.
“Atheists exegeting Bible stories are bound to miss major points,” Nelson wrote in the April 8 Lexington Herald-Leader. “Of all the things to protest as immoral in our day, it is wildly off-target to pick on a Bible story meant to teach what happens to people when they become immoral.
“It is no less ironic that the Tri-State Atheists are imposing their concept of morality from a worldview that is bereft of moral absolutes,” Nelson said.
At least one secular radio host who has supported Tri-State Freethinkers in other actions, Ham noted, is opposed to the billboard campaign.
I-Heart Radio’s Scott Sloan, broadcast on Scott Sloan in Demand in Cincinnati, has called the billboard campaign “petty.”
The Ark Encounter is a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark with 140,000 square feet of exhibit space inside, and flanked by a 1,500-seat restaurant, a lodge, a small zoo and other amenities.
AiG endured a five-year court battle to receive a Kentucky performance-based tax incentive rebate that could amount to $18.25 million. The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority approved April 25th the incentive that allows developers of certain tourism projects to recover up to 25 percent of the project’s development costs over a 10-year span, based on sales taxes paid by attendees.
Ham hopes the ark and upcoming phases of the biblical theme park, including a World City, a Tower of Babel and a First Century Village, will spur interest in the Bible and encourage many to accept the Gospel.
“The secularists have been trying to shut down people talking about the Bible, talking about Christianity,” Ham has said. “[AiG wants] to do something that will impact the public with the Christian message, in other words, get them talking about it, and the ark certainly will.
“From what our research indicates, up to 2 million people a year could come to this,” he said. “I think it will be one of the greatest Christian outreaches of our era. I don’t think there’s any other Christian attraction like this ... that would impact that many people.”
Ticket information is available at arkencounter.com/tickets/.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)


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4/29/2016 11:32:03 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Anglican rift over same-sex marriage widens

April 29 2016 by Leigh Jones, WORLD News Service

Conservative Anglicans reiterated their frustration with the U.K.-based Anglican Communion over the growing divide on same-sex marriage.
Six primates with the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), an organization representing archbishops and their provinces around the world, met April 18-21 in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss the group’s future and its ongoing response to the January meeting of Anglican bishops in Canterbury, England.
“We went to Canterbury out of a desire for unity,” the GAFCON primates wrote in a statement issued after the meeting. “In our hearts we desire to see the tear in the fabric of the communion mended. The sanctions passed at that meeting were the mildest possible rebuke to only the worst of the offenders, but they were one step in the right direction. Regrettably, these sanctions have not been upheld. This is disappointing, but sadly not surprising.”
During the Canterbury meeting, the Anglican Communion voted to sanction The Episcopal Church for violations of institutional protocol instead of a lapse in scriptural fidelity. The U.S.-based province voted last year to change its canon on marriage to accommodate same-sex unions.
The conservative members of the communion wanted to see stronger actions that would bring the U.S. church back to “the plain teaching of scripture” in relation to marriage.
“Within hours of the meeting’s end the public responses from many bishops, clergy, and lay people of The Episcopal Church made it clear that they did not desire to share the same journey,” the GAFCON primates wrote. “The biblical call to repentance is a call to make a 180 degree turn. It grieves us that many in The Episcopal Church have again rejected this call. While we desire to walk together, until there is true repentance, the reality is that they are deliberately walking away from the Anglican Communion and the authority of scripture at a distance that continues to increase.”
After the Canterbury meeting, Michael Curry, archbishop of The Episcopal Church, offered no apology for his province’s actions, suggesting instead it would lead the Anglican Communion toward a more “welcoming” position on same-sex marriage and sexuality.
“And the truth is, it may be part of our vocation to help the communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a church and a communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed, where this is truly a house of prayer for all people,” he said.
The rift in the Anglican Communion over sexuality and fidelity to scripture has been growing for years. While more liberal branches of the church, including groups in the United States and Canada, have moved toward embracing homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the majority of the denomination, centered in Africa, has remained steadfast in its devotion to biblical orthodoxy. A growing number of conservative U.S. churches have separated from The Episcopal Church and aligned themselves with the African province.
In the statement issued after their meeting in Nairobi, the GAFCON primates pledged to continue working toward unity but hinted an official split could be around the corner.
“We are of one mind that the future of the Anglican Communion does not lay with manipulations, compromises, legal loopholes, or the presentation of half-truths; the future of our Communion lies in humble obedience to the truth of the Word of God written,” they wrote. “What others have failed to do, GAFCON is doing: enabling global fellowship and godly order, united by biblical faithfulness. This unity has provided us with great energy to continue to work for the renewal of the Anglican Communion.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Leigh Jones writes for World News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine at worldmag.com based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)


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4/29/2016 11:23:27 AM by Leigh Jones, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

International religious freedom list: reactions mixed

April 28 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptists’ religious freedom entity and a federal panel welcomed the U.S. State Department’s designation of the world’s worst violators of religious liberty but urged further action.
The State Department informed Congress April 14 that Secretary John Kerry had redesignated nine governments as “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) and added a new one. Remaining on the CPC list were China, Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia, along with Burma, Eritrea, Sudan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. For the first time, the State Department named Tajikistan as a CPC.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), expressed gratitude for the acknowledgment by Kerry and the State Department that there are “a number of places where religious liberty is most threatened.”


“Many of the most concerning countries are familiar names,” Moore said. “My prayer is that these and other countries would feel global pressure to protect religious citizens, and that human dignity and international religious freedom would continue to be a priority for the United States.”
The CPC list is required by the International Religious Freedom Act, the 1998 law that calls for the designation of countries that commit or tolerate “systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.” Most of the CPCs on the latest list have been longtime members. Burma, China, Iran and Sudan have been on the list since the first CPCs were named in 1999. The State Department added North Korea in 2001.
The ERLC and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) – which recommends CPCs to the State Department – encouraged better use of the CPC process.
Travis Wussow, director of international justice and religious freedom in the ERLC’s Middle East office, said, “[T]here is much more that needs to be done.
“Troublingly, there are a number of countries [USCIRF] has also advised to be included on this list which were passed over, and no presidential action – not even a public condemnation – was issued for four countries on the list,” he said in a written statement. “We urge the administration to prioritize religious liberty and human rights in crafting international policy.”
Robert George, USCIRF’s chairman, welcomed the designations but noted Kerry “waived imposing any consequences on Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.”
Designating a country as a CPC “brings with it a unique toolbox of policy options to effectively promote religious freedom,” George said in a written statement, “and USCIRF encourages the [Obama administration] to use these tools.”
The State Department made its latest CPC designations shortly before USCIRF is expected to release its 2016 report. In its annual report released April 30 last year, USCIRF recommended CPC status for not only the 10 countries eventually designated by Kerry but for seven others: Central African Republic; Egypt; Iraq; Nigeria; Pakistan; Syria; and Vietnam.
Under the 1998 law, the president has various means for penalizing countries on the CPC list. In the latest designations, the presidential actions included continuing the existing arms embargoes for Burma and Eritrea, existing export restrictions to China and existing travel restrictions on Iran. Waivers, however, were provided to Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan because of the “important national interest of the United States,” an option made available by the law.
Announcement of the latest CPCs, which actually were designated by Kerry in late February, came nearly two years after the last designations were released. Before that, it had been almost three years since the State Department had announced CPCs. Both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations failed to make CPC designations annually over the last decade.
The State Department’s most recent report on international religious freedom was released in October 2015.
In that report, the State Department said Tajikistan, the newest country on the CPC list, bars people under 18 years of age from taking part in public religious services. The government monitors the registration of religious groups and strictly regulates religious events and publications, according to the report. Also, reports of government harassment of Protestants have been made in the Central Asian country that is more than 90 percent Muslim.
USCIRF – which is made up of nine commissioners selected by the president and congressional leaders – tracks the status of religious liberty worldwide and issues reports to Congress, the president and the State Department.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

4/28/2016 11:04:57 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

John Avant announced as Pastors’ Conference nominee

April 28 2016 by Baptist Press

John Avant, pastor of First Baptist Concord in Knoxville, Tenn., will be nominated for president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Pastors’ Conference, according to an announcement by fellow Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines.
Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., stated in an April 27 announcement to Baptist Press: “I have known John Avant for over 30 years. We were in the Ph.D. program together at Southwestern Seminary in the 1980s. We both served as pastors of Southern Baptist churches in Texas at that same time. He is a man of Christ-like character. He has experienced personal revival as well as revival in his churches. He is a devoted husband and father, a gospel preacher, a loving pastor, a soul winner and a servant leader.


John Avant

“Having served as the president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference myself in 2005,” Gaines said, “I am fully aware of the responsibilities of that position, and I am confident that Dr. Avant will do a wonderful job serving all Southern Baptist pastors.”
A former vice president for evangelization at the North American Mission Board (NAMB), Avant has pastored seven churches in Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas. Gaines said Avant “is known for the revival that broke out in Coggin Avenue Baptist Church in Brownwood, Texas, in 1995, where he was pastor, and spread to colleges and churches across America and beyond.”
Gaines added, “Since that time, Avant has been a passionate voice calling for a fresh move of spiritual awakening as the great hope of our convention and our nation.”
The Pastors’ Conference, which features messages from key leaders and inspirational music and worship, will be June 12-13 at America’s Center in St. Louis preceding the SBC’s June 14-15 annual meeting there.
Phoenix will be the site of next year’s Pastors’ Conference and SBC annual meeting.
Avant – who has preached at more than 30 state Baptist convention evangelism conferences, pastors’ conferences and annual meetings – has pastored First Baptist Concord since 2013, leading the congregation in plans to launch a second campus in August.
First Baptist Concord is the lead partner church for NAMB’s Send Cleveland effort, committing resources to church planting in the city and recruiting other churches to join the campaign. The congregation supports nine total church plants, two of which began this year, Gaines said. Five global partnerships connect First Baptist Concord with the International Mission Board missionaries.
The church projects its total mission expenditures for 2016-17 to be approximately 23 percent of undesignated receipts, with some $42,000 supporting Southern Baptist missions and ministries through the Cooperative Program, Gaines said.
Avant earned an undergraduate degree from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a master of divinity and doctor of philosophy from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
He and his wife Donna have three children and are expecting their third grandchild.
Avant said of a potential opportunity to lead the Pastors’ Conference, “When I was at NAMB, I had the opportunity to work with pastors all across America and Canada. God gave me a deep love for these godly men in every size church. I want to encourage them. I also want to ask God to spark within the heart of every pastor a fresh passion to believe God in an Ephesians 3:20 way – that He can and will ‘do exceedingly more than we can ask and imagine!’ We can turn around the trends in baptisms. We can see revival again. But the pastors are the key. This is my heart.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/28/2016 10:57:00 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Illinois pastor Doug Munton to be 1st VP nominee

April 28 2016 by Baptist Press

Illinois pastor Doug Munton will be nominated for first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Missouri pastor John Marshall announced April 26.
Munton has been pastor of the St. Louis-area First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., for 20-plus years. He is a former president of the Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA) and a current member of the SBC Committee on Committees.
“Doug cares about souls,” Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Springfield, Mo., said according to a news release from First Baptist. “He has demonstrated a constant passion for winning the lost to Christ. The St. Louis Metroplex is a tough place to do the Lord’s work, but Doug has led his congregation there effectively. He has been a longtime role model for those of us who serve in the Midwest.”


Doug Munton

During Munton’s pastorate, First Baptist has baptized approximately 2,000 people and grown in average worship attendance from 550 to more than 1,600, according to the release. Data from the SBC’s Annual Church Profile indicates an average of 116 baptisms over the past five years for which statistics are available.
First Baptist reported giving approximately 8 percent of its undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program (CP) in 2014-15, a figure confirmed by the Illinois Baptist State Association. For the same period, the church’s Great Commission Giving totaled approximately 11 percent of undesignated receipts, according to reports from the IBSA and First Baptist.
Great Commission Giving is a category of giving established by SBC action in 2011 that encompasses giving through CP, Southern Baptists’ unified program of funding state- and SBC-level ministries, as well as direct gifts to SBC entities, associational giving and giving to state convention ministries.
Munton said he wants “to be a great encourager to our convention in the areas of missions and evangelism.”
“Since my first international mission trip, God has stirred my heart for the nations,” Munton said. “And with a daughter and her family serving as career missionaries with the International Mission Board in Madagascar, the issue is even more personal. But I also want to see us with a passion to see our friends and neighbors and classmates come to know the Lord right here in our own nation.”
Munton holds both doctor of philosophy and master of divinity degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and an undergraduate degree from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.
The author of four books, Munton has taught at multiple institutions of higher education, including Southwestern Seminary and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. Before moving to Illinois, he had pastored a church in Texas and served as youth minister at another Texas church.
He and his wife Vickie have four children and are expecting their seventh grandchild.
Munton is the first announced nominee for first vice president. Announced presidential nominees are Louisiana pastor David Crosby, Tennessee pastor Steve Gaines and North Carolina pastor J.D. Greear. Recording Secretary John Yeats also will be re-nominated.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled from a news release by First Baptist Church in O’Fallon, Ill., with additional reporting by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/28/2016 10:31:58 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Avery Association forges partnership with Scottish church

April 28 2016 by Avery Baptist Association staff

The churches of the Avery Baptist Association (ABA) have covenanted with a local congregation in Scotland for a five-year ministry partnership. The Scotland Partnership is an opportunity for the churches of the Avery Association to develop a Kingdom partnership with Buckhaven Community Church (BCC).
“Scottish roots run deep in western North Carolina,” said Garland Honeycutt, associational missionary for the ABA. “Many families in our region can trace their heritage back to the land of kilts and bagpipes. The very geography of the High Country closely resembles that of Scotland, which more than likely explains why Scottish immigrants settled in the area, so many years ago.
“However, there is a major difference between the hills of Scotland and the mountains of Appalachia – Scotland is largely absent of the presence of the gospel,” he said.


Only about 3 percent of Scots identify as evangelical Christians. The population of Buckhaven in Fife, a small fishing town north of Edinburgh, is 6,000 people; however 98 percent of them have no contact with a local church.
“By collaborating with Peter Carr and BCC, our desire for this partnership is to impact Scotland with the life changing gospel of Jesus Christ,” Honeycutt explained.
Peter Carr, a native Scot, planted BCC in January 2015. “While the church scene in Scotland has become largely dysfunctional, it’s not all doom and gloom. For many decades our country has been a sending nation, but now we are a receiving nation when it comes to missionaries, he said.
Carr went on to say “Scotland, I believe, is now ripe and ready for new expressions of gospel-centered, Kingdom-focused churches.”
ABA’s Scotland Partnership focuses on two primary goals: first, strengthening BCC to become a healthy, self-sustaining church and second, assisting BCC in the planting of new, self-sustaining, evangelical churches across Scotland. These goals hope to be reached within the scope of the five year partnership.
“We plan to take associational mission trips to Scotland at least once each year. Mission trips will provide ABA churches the opportunity to physically come alongside the ministry of BCC through evangelism and outreach, leadership development, and church planting,” Honeycutt explained. “While the ABA and its churches will be the ‘sponsors’ of the partnership, we heartily extend an invitation to churches and individuals outside of the ABA to join us in this exciting gospel effort!”
Support has already been enlisted from churches outside the ABA, including churches from Mitchell County and Carter County, Tennessee.
The ABA approved moving forward with the partnership at its associational spring meeting in April. Under the direction of the newly formed Scotland Partnership Committee, a detailed proposal for the partnership will be presented to the churches of the ABA at its annual meeting in October 2016. Once the proposal is approved at the October meeting, the partnership will officially launch in January 2017.
Honeycutt and other leaders from ABA will be taking a five day vision trip to Scotland to meet with Peter Carr in mid-May. A full program has been planned, which includes several days of prayer walking through Buckhaven and other villages in the Fife region, as well as attending a pastors’ conference in Kirkcaldy to dialogue with ministry leaders from across the nation.
“We are very excited about the opportunities ahead of us,” Honeycutt remarked. “As an associational missionary I believe God’s people are at their best when they work together. Avery Baptists are lifting our eyes beyond our region, to work alongside our sisters and brothers across the pond, by impacting an unbelieving generation of Scots with the transforming message of the gospel.”
To receive more information on the partnership or to explore ways to join the effort, go to averybaptists.org/scotland.

4/28/2016 10:27:13 AM by Avery Baptist Association staff | with 1 comments

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