April 2016

Baptists on Mission celebrates 40 years of ministry

April 5 2016 by Emily Rojas, BSC Communications

The year was 1976, and Ed Bullock had just been appointed as the executive director of a newly formed auxiliary of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) a corporation called N.C. Baptist Men (NCBM). Now, 40 years later, N.C. Baptist Men, also known as Baptists on Mission, has a legacy to celebrate.
 
Some of that celebration will take place on April 15-16, when NCBM will host the 2016 Baptist Missions Conference at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte.

 
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NC Baptist Men and Women Disaster Relief Ministry Facebook photo
Baptists on Mission disaster relief volunteers serving in Johnsonville, S.C., gather to pray in this October 2015 photo. Volunteers serve in a variety of ministries.

Open to all Baptist men, women and students, the conference will feature breakout sessions, mission fair exhibits, mission testimonies and a volunteer supper.
 
Since 1997 alone, NCBM has distributed more than 6.2 million meals and treated more than 58,000 patients on its medical/dental buses.
 
With 17 ministries that span from agricultural missions to sports and recreation ministries, NCBM has been blessed to be able to serve in a variety of different fields.
 
Lynn Tharrington has worked for NCBM since 1971 – a time when the office was still the BSC’s Brotherhood department, existing to do hands-on missions for North Carolina Baptist churches.
 
Tharrington has served alongside all three of the auxiliary’s directors, and the organization has been a source of joy to her as she as seen firsthand the effect that acts of service can have on the lives of others over the course of her 45-year career with NCBM.
 
She recalled a time when NCBM was embarking on its first disaster relief mission – helping with cleanup after tornadoes ripped through Red Springs in 1984.
 
“At that time, nobody had ever heard of disaster relief,” Tharrington said. “But God did have that vision. He knew what He was preparing us for.”
 
In 1992, Richard Brunson was appointed as the executive director of NCBM, a position he still holds today.
 
He has seen the ministry grow, but he said the focus of NCBM remains the same.
 
“Our job is to help churches involve their members in missions,” Brunson said. “We want to challenge all men, women and students to be involved in missions.”
 
Brunson said that a large part of NCBM’s growth over the years had to do with helping Baptists to understand that they can be missionaries in their day-to-day lives. Many people give to missions and pray for missions, but they often don’t see themselves as missionaries, Brunson said. NCBM helps change that mindset.
 
“We wanted to change the story from missions education to missions involvement, and every Christian is a missionary,” Brunson said. “All Christians are called, gifted and sent.”
 
If you or your church would like to learn more about becoming involved with North Carolina Baptists on Mission, please visit baptistsonmission.org or contact Lynn Tharrington at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5599, or ltharrington@ncbaptist.org.
 
Because of the Biblical Recorder’s press deadline, coverage of the 2016 meeting in Charlotte will be in the May 7 issue of the Recorder.

4/5/2016 9:48:06 PM by Emily Rojas, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



CP 6.5% ahead of projection at mid-year point

April 5 2016 by Baptist Press

Year-to-date contributions to Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries received by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee are 6.5 percent above the year-to-date SBC Cooperative Program (CP) Allocation Budget projection, and are 3.09 percent above contributions received during the same time frame last year, according to a news release from SBC Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Frank S. Page.
 
“This report marks the second successive year that CP contributions have increased over the previous fiscal year’s mid-point and is the highest mid-year total since March 2010,” Page said. “We are surrounded by huge pockets of lostness across our nation and around the world. We praise the Lord for this continued rebound in support of our joint ministries through the Cooperative Program.”
 
The year-to-date total represents money received by the Executive Committee by the close of the last business day of March and includes receipts from state conventions, churches and individuals for distribution according to the 2015-16 SBC CP Allocation Budget.
 
The $99,315,836.09 received by the Executive Committee for the first six months of the fiscal year, October 1 through March 31, for distribution through the CP Allocation Budget represents 106.50 percent of the $93,250,000.00 year-to-date budgeted projection to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America. The total is $2,978,751.71 or 3.09 percent more than the $96,337,084.38 received through the end of March 2015.
 
The CP is Southern Baptists’ channel of giving through which a local church is able to contribute to the ministries of its state convention and to the missions and ministries of the SBC with a single contribution to its state convention.
 
The Convention-adopted CP allocation budget is distributed 50.41 percent to international missions through IMB, 22.79 percent to North American missions through the North American Mission Board, 22.16 percent to theological education through the Convention’s six seminaries, 2.99 percent to the SBC operating budget, and 1.65 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. GuideStone Financial Resources and LifeWay Christian Resources are self-sustaining and do not receive CP funding.
 
According to the budget adopted by the SBC at its June 2015 annual meeting in Baltimore, if the Convention exceeds its annual budget goal of $188 million dollars, the International Mission Board’s share will go to 51 percent of any overage in CP allocation budget receipts. Other ministry entities of the SBC will receive their adopted percentage amounts and the SBC operating budget’s portion will be reduced to 2.4 percent of any overage.
 
Designated giving of $129,122,798.17 for the same year-to-date period is 8.41 percent, or $10,015,458.01, above the $119,107,340.16 received at this point last year. This total includes only those gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities. Designated contributions include the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief and other special gifts.
 
March’s CP allocation receipts for SBC work totaled $16,022,276.52. Designated gifts received last month amounted to $31,711,140.04.
 
State conventions retain a portion of church contributions to the CP to support work in their respective states and forward a percentage to Southern Baptist national and international causes. The percentage of distribution from the states is at the discretion of the messengers of each state convention through the adoption of the state convention’s annual budget.
 
Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the number of Sundays in a given month, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions, the percentage of CP contributions forwarded to the SBC by the state conventions after shared ministry expenses are deducted and the timing of when the state conventions forward the national portion of Cooperative Program contributions to the Executive Committee.
 
CP allocation budget receipts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly to the executives of the entities of the convention, to the state convention offices, to the state Baptist papers and are posted online at cpmissions.net/CPReports.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Baptist Press reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.)

4/5/2016 9:37:30 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Creationists differ on use of term ‘evolution’

April 5 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Answers in Genesis (AiG) founder Ken Ham has voiced disagreement with a Southern Baptist seminary professor's claim that aspects of Ham's view on animal kingdom development should be labeled "evolution."
 
Ham and Kenneth Keathley, a professor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary who wrote two blog posts about Ham in late March, also differ on whether AiG’s position regarding the development of animal species is consistent with the view historically articulated by young-earth creationists – those who believe God created the world from nothing between 6,000 and 50,000 years ago in six literal days.

 
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Ken Ham

Old-earth creationism, which Keathley advocates, agrees God brought the world into existence from nothing by His direct action. Old-earth creationists, however, say the earth may be billions rather than thousands of years old and that the “days” of Genesis 1 were not 24-hour periods.
 
At issue in the current debate is whether Ham’s view that new species develop within what the Bible calls “kinds” of animals should be labeled “evolution” or “speciation.” Ham rejects the label evolution because of its association with Darwinism and notions of “molecules-to-man” transition. Keathley says failing to label Ham’s view evolution handicaps believers in debates with Darwinists.
 
Ham told Baptist Press, “I do not use the word evolution when it comes to talking about those small changes because most people, when they hear the word evolution today, think of ... Darwinian evolution.”
 
Ham classified the title of Keathley’s March 28 blog post – “Ham Embraces Evolution” – as “character assassination” because it misleads people about his perspective.
 
Noah populated the ark, Ham explained, not with all extant species but with “kinds” of animals (Genesis 6:19) – corresponding to what modern biologists label families or perhaps orders in some instances such as Proboscidea, the order that includes all mammals with trunks.
 
Following the flood, all of today’s species developed from these common ancestors, Ham said, a development possible “because of the incredible genetic potential God inbuilt in each kind.”
 
In one of two AiG articles posted in response to Keathley, biologist Nathaniel Jeanson explained, “Dogs are species, and they belong to the same genus as wolves. Dogs, wolves and foxes belong to the same biological family, and all carnivores belong to the same biological order.”

 
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Kenneth Keathley

Keathley wrote in a March 30 blog post, “The AiG model can avoid the label of evolution only by rewriting the dictionary.”
 
Keathley, director of Southeastern’s L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, said, “Dr. Ham is upset that I describe his position on speciation as a version of evolution, but I’m not the first to make this observation. Many old-earth creationists and intelligent design proponents have been making this point for some time.” He referenced Hugh Ross’ book A Matter of Days and Joel Duff’s website thenaturalhistorian.com.
 
Keathley said Ham’s reticence to acknowledge the commonalities between his proposal and “some aspects” of evolutionary theory “leaves a door open for our Darwinian opponents.”
 
“I made a point in both [blog] articles to emphasize that I agree with much of Ken Ham’s proposal,” Keathley said. “I, too, am a creationist who believes that Adam and Eve were the special, direct creation of God. I do not hold to common descent. I believe that God created the kinds, or major types, and these kinds act as boundaries on the amount of variation that can occur. I’m an old-earth creationist, so I don’t agree with his timeline.
 
“But we accept speciation,” Keathley continued, “so this means we accept some aspects of evolutionary theory. When we fail to make this clear, it leaves open a door for our Darwinian opponents. They show that the fossil record contains transitional forms, and then triumphantly pronounce that Darwinism is true. Because creationists have been less than clear about speciation, the average layperson is put at a terrible disadvantage.”
 
Keathley also argued in his blog posts that AiG has begun to move away from traditional young-earth creationism. Previous young-earth creationists “allowed for variety within species” and recognized that “closely related species can interbreed,” he wrote. Yet “AiG and Ken Ham have taken this idea much further” to what Keathley labeled “macro-evolution.”
 
AiG countered that Keathley is incorrect about the history of young-earth creationism. AiG’s view represents the mainstream of young-earth creationism for at least the past 70 years, Ham said.
 
“We haven’t changed any views whatsoever,” Ham said. Keathley “is stating something that we can prove is incorrect.
 
“For instance,” he said, “all you have to do is go to the Institute for Creation Research website ... and if you’ll do a search for ‘speciation,’ you’ll find that 70 years ago this year – that was 1946 – Dr. Henry Morris [co-founder of the institute] was talking about speciation and was saying that the ‘kind’ in the Bible was broad, probably at the family level” of biological classification.
 
Jeanson quoted Morris as stating in 1946, “It is well to observe at this point that the Bible does not teach the fixity of species. ... Thus, it is probable that the original Genesis ‘kind’ is closely akin to what the modern systematist calls a ‘family.’ And let it be stated in no uncertain terms that there is no evidence that evolution ever has occurred or ever can occur across the kinds.”
 
AiG scientists, Ham said, have “done a lot of research” on the limits of speciation in preparation for the opening in July of Ark Encounter, a life-size replica of Noah’s ark in northern Kentucky. Such research, Jeanson wrote, follows the tradition of Morris and fellow young-earth creationist researchers John Whitcomb and Frank Marsh.
 
Ham said his bottom-line concern is “getting the true answer out” concerning his view.
 
“There have been people email me from other parts of the world saying to me, ‘This guy [Keathley] is accusing you of believing in evolution. We know you don’t believe in evolution,’” Ham said. “Why are they saying that except they know what the word evolution means to most people.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

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4/5/2016 2:41:06 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 2 comments



Indiana adopts law to protect Down syndrome babies

April 4 2016 by Evan Wilt, World News Service

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on March 24 signed a bill into law protecting babies from abortions based solely on genetic conditions such as Down syndrome.
 
“When it comes to genetics, it’s easy for us to say ‘if it isn’t perfect let’s abort,’” said Len Reynolds, the president of Indiana Right to Life’s Lake County affiliate. “I have had the opportunity to meet many families with Down syndrome children. Yes, they have an extra chromosome, but there is something truly special about them. I think these kids have an extra love gene.”

 
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Photo from Gov. Mike Pence's Facebook page

The new law, set to take effect in July, says abortionists can be held liable for wrongful death if they know the mother is seeking an abortion solely because of the baby’s disability, gender, race, or other physical characteristics. Indiana joins North Dakota as the second state to enact such protections.
 
Indiana’s version of the law takes it one step further than North Dakota. Indiana gave credence the civil rights of unborn babies, attaching them to current protections to prevent discrimination.
 
The measure will place an expectation on doctors to provide clear information to women about their pregnancies. In the past, some doctors advised women only to have an abortion if their baby had potential genetic abnormalities.
 
Under the law, women are not held responsible for the baby’s death, even if they make it clear they want an abortion for the now-prohibited reasons. But abortionists who decide to terminate a pregnancy based on a baby’s disability, gender, or race can face civil liability and professional discipline.
 
Indiana already bans terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks of gestation. New forms of prenatal tests allow physicians to determine a baby’s gender or possible disability as early as 10 weeks. Under the new law, the window of opportunity for women to terminate their pregnancies could shrink depending on the mother’s reason for wanting an abortion.
 
“Every part of this bill really plays to supporting the dignity of human life,” said Christina Francis, an OB-GYN physician in Fort Wayne, Ind.
 
According to Francis, about 75 percent of women decide to get an abortion after they find out the baby may have Down syndrome or another permanent disability. But many families under these circumstances don’t think about abortion until after the diagnosis. For some, a Down syndrome diagnosis is scary and may compel them to make a rash decision.
 
“So many women just come looking for answers, and they put a lot of trust and faith in what their physician says,” Francis said. “That’s why I like this law – because it re-establishes dignity to the baby when an abortion sounds like the easiest option.”
 
She explained that some women who really want an abortion go straight to an abortion center, and this law might not affect them if they don’t meet first with their physician.
 
Pence issued a statement after signing the law saying history will judge society on how it protects the most vulnerable, which includes the disabled and the unborn.
 
The bill originally started as two separate pieces of legislation, one to protect the rights of unborn babies with genetic abnormalities and the other to respect the remains of deceased babies who sometimes end up in landfills or 31-gallon drums. The law Pence signed requires cremation or burials for the bodies of babies after an abortion or miscarriage.
 
The law does not prevent abortions for lethal fetal anomalies if the baby will not survive the birth or poses a significant health risk to the mother. But for families who receive a diagnosis of a lethal fetal anomaly, the law will require their doctors to inform them about perinatal hospice care and other options for a high-risk pregnancy.
 
“I think this bill strengthens the patient-to-doctor relationship because it requires us to do more counseling,” Francis said. “I think doctors should be held to a higher standard.”

4/4/2016 1:36:06 PM by Evan Wilt, World News Service | with 0 comments



Food pantry keeps going as coal industry struggles

April 4 2016 by Kristen Lowry, Kentucky Today

A middle-aged woman rushes through the door of the Letcher County Food Pantry just before closing time.
 
“I thought I was too late,” she says, with obvious relief. “I really need my box this month.”
 
She’s not the only one.
 
“We have a lot of people who will tell us, ‘There’s no food in my pantry; I have nothing to eat,’” said Vicki Holbrook, co-director of the Letcher County Food Pantry in Whitesburg, Ky. “If not for what we do here, we’d have a lot more people going hungry in Letcher County.”

 
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Kentucky Today photo by Kristen Lowry
Vicki Holbrook, co-director of the Letcher County Food Pantry, helps prepare food boxes for the hundreds of families served by the ministry.

The food pantry helps more than 500 families in a 6-mile radius each month. It is operated out of a small white house on the corner of the grounds of Whitesburg First Baptist Church. The building is provided by the church, which also pays the water and electric bills each month.
 
Inside the house, volunteers make their way through a maze of boxes of cereal and canned pork and beans in order to fill a box of food for each family.
 
Holbrook has been volunteering with the food pantry for three years, and served as co-director for two.
 
The food pantry, which serves an average of more than 1,000 people a month, was established with money from a legal settlement after the Scotia mine disaster of 1976, one of the worst in Kentucky history.
 
Holbrook said most of the people who use the food bank typically are the unemployed or the working poor trying to make ends meet in minimum-wage jobs.
 
And their ranks keep growing throughout central Appalachia where the coal industry is going through a bust cycle. Employment in the coal industry has declined from more than 13,000 five years ago to under 6,000 today.
 
That’s the fewest number of miners working in the state’s mountain region in more than a century.
 
Holbrook said the Letcher County Food Pantry was serving an average of 350 families before the coal industry bottomed out. God’s Pantry Food Bank, based in Lexington, supplies much of the food distributed by the Whitesburg initiative.
 
God’s Pantry has seen a steady increase in the amount of food distributed in the 50 counties it serves.
 
“We hear stories almost monthly of mining operations shutting down that result in staggering job losses, and there are not enough new jobs entering the area to keep pace with those that are lost,” said Marian F. Guinn, CEO of God’s Pantry Food Bank.
 
“We find our partner agencies are feeding more and more people who never thought they would need assistance,” Guinn noted, “and don’t know how long it will be until they can once again support their families as they have in the past.”
 
The decline of the coal industry has been devastating for the region. The once-thriving downtown business districts in many Appalachian towns now sport mostly empty storefronts.
 
In 1988, Letcher County had nearly 1,700 residents working in coal-related jobs. By the end of 2015, that number had fallen to about 100.
 
“There’s depression in a lot of people here,” said Tony Brown, pastor of Whitesburg First Baptist Church. “There’s a heaviness. A lot of people just don’t see any hope for the future.”
 
Brown, who serves on the local food pantry’s board of directors, said the pervasive unemployment is tough on churches, which regularly receive more requests than they can fulfill for help with utilities, lodging for the homeless, even gasoline for people’s cars.
 
The hard reality is that churches have had to put restrictions on the help they give.
 
“There’s simply not enough money,” he said.
 
He sympathizes with the young families that are hanging on, still looking for work in the region.
 
“This is where they grew up,” Brown said. “They want to live here.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kristen Lowry writes for the Frankfort bureau of Kentucky Today at kentuckytoday.com, a news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

4/4/2016 1:27:58 PM by Kristen Lowry, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments



Baptist state leaders talk church revitalization best practices

April 4 2016 by Keith Collier, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Church growth is a “supernatural event, and therefore church revitalization is more of a spiritual issue than a mechanical one,” said Ken Hemphill, director for North Greenville University’s Center for Church Planting and Revitalization, during a meeting of leaders from 14 Baptist state conventions.
 
Hemphill was a guest speaker at the March 21-22 meeting in Charleston, S.C., where the network of leaders focused on sharing best practices related to work in church revitalization. Also present were representatives from LifeWay Christian Resources and the North American Mission Board (NAMB) as well as several leaders from local associations in South Carolina.

 
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Photo by Kenneth Priest
Ken Hemphill, director for North Greenville University’s Center for Church Planting and Revitalization, speaks to Baptist state convention leaders about church revitalization during a March 21-22 meeting in Charleston, S.C.

“Our core conviction is [that] nothing changes the heart and mind but the Word of God applied by the Spirit of God,” Hemphill said. “Church revitalization must be undergirded by prayer and based on the effective and accurate teaching of God’s Word.”
 
The leadership network was initiated by Kenneth Priest, director of convention strategies for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and Steve Rice, church consulting and revitalization team leader for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
 
“The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention believes church revitalization is brought about by the people of God returning to the Word of God,” Priest noted.
 
“This means that the strongest model for bringing about the needed change in a church is done from the pulpit by the pastor,” he said. “Therefore, we use a process that is focused on preaching for revitalization and reinforce this with small group study based off the sermon.”
 
Darwin Meighan, director of church revitalization/evangelism for the Nevada Baptist Convention, shared ways his convention partners with pastors and churches, including providing resources that give “transferable scriptural principles along with key components essential to the spiritual process of revitalizing every church regardless of its size, condition or context.”
 
“Our desire is to come alongside pastors and churches to join them in the journey of restoring spiritual health, hope and renewal in each church’s unique ministry setting, with the goal of helping them more effectively accomplish the Great Commission,” Meighan said.
 
Each year, a different state convention hosts the meeting of state convention leaders so they can discuss what is happening in their respective states, new practices and tools developed in the past year, what is working and what is not working in church revitalization.
 
“Even though each of us has a different model, none of them are bad or wrong; they are simply different,” Rice said. “Each of us has to approach revitalization within the model and the context of the model within our respective state convention.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN at texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

4/4/2016 1:20:58 PM by Keith Collier, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



Christianity thrives in Iran despite severe persecution

April 4 2016 by Julia A. Seymour, World News Service

Although Iran is one of the most difficult places in the world to be a Christian, the underground house church movement there is exploding.
 
“Thousands upon thousands” of people in Iran are becoming Christians annually, according to Open Doors USA spokeswoman Emily Fuentes.
 
“The house churches are causing such rapid growth in conversions it is unmatched by any other country in the Middle East,” she said.
 
According to Mohabat News, estimates suggest the underground church network could include as many as 1 million people, but Fuentes said it is difficult to accurately quantify its size. Operation World recently ranked Iran as the country with the fastest growing evangelical population in the world.
 
The Islamic Republic of Iran, a Shi’a Muslim theocracy, is ranked ninth on the 2016 World Watch List of most severe persecutors of Christians. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has urged the designation “country of particular concern” for Iran since 1999 because of the regime’s persecution and discrimination against its citizens on the basis of belief.
 
“The government continues to use its religious laws to silence reformers, including human rights defenders and journalists, for exercising their internationally protected rights to freedom of expression and religion or belief,” USCIRF reported.
 
Iran’s Christian house churches are illegal and participants can face jail time, especially if they are not an ethnic minority, Fuentes said. Because they are considered Muslim, Farsi-speaking Persians are not allowed to go to Christian churches at all. They face reprisals, including violence, from authorities, the community, and even family members if they convert to Christianity.
 
“One of my biggest fears is that the secret police would come one day and they would rape me,” a female house church planter in Iran told The Voice of the Martyrs Radio. A former Muslim, she said she is high on the secret police’s wanted list. But after years of being a Christian, God gave her peace and took her fear away, she said.
 
Fuentes and Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs both said the severity of persecution in Iran is part of the reason for the church’s dramatic growth.
 
“I have talked to an Iranian Christian who called Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, the greatest Christian missionary in the history of Iran because he established the Islamic Republic which is now pushing people to Christ,” Nettleton said.
 
Dissatisfaction with the Islamic regime also is bringing people to Christianity.
 
Iran Alive Ministries broadcasts into Iran and ministers to unbelievers and the underground church. According to Iran Alive’s founder, more than 32,000 people have prayed with them to become Christians since 2001.
 
“[I]nto that void in the hearts of Iranians, the gospel message of a Savior who loves them enough to die for them is like sweet music,” Nettleton said. “And it is coming on radio waves, over satellite television, online, and even in supernatural means like dreams and visions.”

4/4/2016 1:12:51 PM by Julia A. Seymour, World News Service | with 0 comments



Canada scraps religious freedom office

April 4 2016 by Evan Wilt, World News Service

Canada’s new Liberal government decided the country no longer needs an office dedicated to religious freedom, allowing it to expire on March 31.
 
“We now have one less strong partner and one less voice for religious freedom,” Katrina Lantos Swett, commissioner of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, told me. “This is a very unfortunate message to send out to the rest of the world at this time.”

 
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper advocated for an office dedicated to international religious freedom, finally opening it in February 2013. But newly elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quickly shut the door on the operation. Trudeau’s administration vows to take a broader approach to global issues of human rights – devaluing a focus specifically on religious freedom.
 
With a budget of $5 million and only a handful of employees, Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom was able to have a hand in various efforts in countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan. It focused on promoting religious tolerance through education and helping religious minorities under threat in hostile areas.
 
“That office was punching above its weight,” said Phil Horgan, president of Canada’s Catholic Civil Rights League. “The decision by the Liberals to effectively shut it down in favor of, well, nothing, is rather disappointing.”
 
Trudeau’s foreign affairs minister, Stephane Dion, said that closing the office does not mean Canada doesn’t care about religious freedom. He said the Liberals will continue to defend all human rights, including the freedom of religion and belief, “tooth and nail,” but did not mention any new initiatives.
 
Harper originally dedicated the office to Shahbaz Bhatti, a Pakistani politician who stood up to Muslims on behalf of Christians and Hindus in his country. In 2011, militants assassinated Bhatti in Pakistan shortly after returning from a visit to Canada.
 
On March 21, Canadian Conservatives brought a motion in the House of Commons to renew Harper’s mandate for the Office of Religious Freedom. The Liberals easily quashed the motion, winning the vote 225 to 90.
 
Conservative Member of Parliament Garrett Genius wrote on his Facebook page the new government had it out for the office, regardless of its good work: “They are planning on running a deficit approaching $30 billion, yet religious freedom wasn’t important enough to keep open an office that costs $5 million.”
 
Both Swett and Horgan praised the work of Andrew Bennett, who served as the office’s first and only ambassador. Without Bennett and the Office of Religious Freedom, Canada will no longer have a focal point for international religious issues or someone to send to engage in foreign talks.
 
“Religious freedom deserves unique focus, particularly in this time in history,” said Bruce Clemenger, president of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. He said the office was a go-to place for many organizations concerned about international religious freedom: “We lost an important capacity today.”
 
 Swett said she is hopeful the Trudeau administration will make good on its promises to keep religious freedom a priority going forward. But until a new plan arises, she fears Canada is taking a step backward, much to the consternation of those persecuted for their faith.
 
“Both the enemies and the friends of religious freedom will view this decision as an effort to downgrade the importance of this fundamental human right,” Swett told me. “The world is kind of on fire, as it relates to religious freedom. So the timing, in my humble opinion, couldn’t be much worse.”

4/4/2016 1:01:07 PM by Evan Wilt, World News Service | with 0 comments



Disaster relief worker dies of heart attack on flood recovery

April 1 2016 by Lisa Sergent, Illinois Baptist State Association

A volunteer with a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) team from Illinois died of a heart attack March 29 while serving flood victims in Leesville, La.
 
Don Fulkerson, 77, was a member of First Baptist Church of Galatia, Ill. He was serving with a group of trained relief workers from the church and others from churches around Illinois.
 
“The callout to Louisiana was Don’s 15th response over a period of only four years and his wife Margie was almost always by his side serving whenever the opportunity arose,” said Rex Alexander, disaster relief coordinator for the Illinois Baptist State Association (IBSA).

 
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Submitted photo
Disaster Relief volunteers Bob Fulkerson and his wife Margie (left) and Butch and Debbie Porter (right) rest for a moment during a call out a few years ago in New York. Fulkerson passed away Tuesday, March 29 while serving on a call out in Leesville, La. Both couples are members of First Baptist Church of Galatia, Ill.

“Their faithful service,” he noted, “to Christ brought great joy to both of them as they served side by side in the ministry of disaster relief.”
 
The disaster relief team members from First Baptist Church of Galatia were first responders in what is expected to be a series of assignments to aid victims of spring floods in Louisiana. Illinois teams will serve alongside teams from around the country.
 
“Our Illinois Baptist family certainly grieves with and is in prayer for the Fulkerson family, and the entire church family at First Baptist in Galatia,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “We appreciate so much Don’s and Margie’s service, along with so many other devoted disaster relief volunteers, and we are confident that Don’s life and sacrifice will bring eternal rewards, both to him and to the lives he touched.”
 
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) coordinates SBDR on the national level.
 
NAMB president and former Illinois Baptist pastor Kevin Ezell extended his condolences to the family of Don Fulkerson as they mourn his passing.
 
“Don is a great example of someone who chose to stay active into his later years and to contribute in a way that truly made a difference in the lives of others,” Ezell said. “I pray that his wife Margie and his entire family will feel God’s love and comfort during these days and that they will also be aware of the gratitude and appreciation for them from their entire Southern Baptist family.”
 
Visitation for Fulkerson will take place Friday, April 1 from 6-9 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Galatia, 108 E. Church St., Galatia, IL 62935. His funeral will be Saturday, April 2 at 11 a.m. also at First Baptist Church of Galatia.
 
Alexander suggested disaster relief volunteers attending the funeral “wear your yellow shirts in honor of Don’s faithful service to the Lord through Disaster Relief Ministry.”
 
Cards of condolence may be mailed to his widow Margie Fulkerson, P.O. Box 5, Galatia, IL 62935.
 
IBSA has 1,600 trained volunteers who serve as part of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Disaster Relief ministry, the third largest relief agency in the United States. Disaster Relief often responds to natural disasters by providing feeding stations, mobile kitchens, child care and chaplains. In the case of flooding, volunteers in their signature yellow shirts help homeowners with “mudout,” clearing flooded properties of debris and contaminated building materials, so they can begin rebuilding and recovery.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Sergent is director of communications for the Illinois Baptist State Association.)

4/1/2016 11:56:20 AM by Lisa Sergent, Illinois Baptist State Association | with 0 comments



Abortion pill guidelines: FDA eases chemical regimen

April 1 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has updated its guidelines concerning the abortion drug mifepristone, allowing women to take it later in pregnancy and with reduced medical supervision.
 
The New York Times called the update “an unequivocal victory for abortion rights advocates.”
 
Previously, women were permitted to take mifepristone (formerly known as RU-486) up to the seventh week of pregnancy, but that has been extended to 10 weeks. Recommended dosage has been lowered from 600 milligrams to 200 milligrams to reflect “standard medical practice,” according to The Times, and the number of visits to a health care provider required in conjunction with the drug’s administration has been reduced from three to two.
 
C. Ben Mitchell, an evangelical bioethicist, wrote, “The FDA regulates drugs based on safety and effectiveness, not other ethical factors. Unfortunately, mifepristone (RU-486) is not safe for unborn human beings though it is relatively effective in ending their lives.
 
“One might wish there were a drug that could heal our national conscience, but that can only come about through a spiritual and moral awakening,” said Mitchell, provost and Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University.
 
The FDA approved the updated mifepristone guidelines March 29 in response to a request submitted by New York-based Danco Laboratories, the company that markets the drug under the label Mifeprex, according to the FDA website.
 
At least six states – Ohio, North Dakota, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Arizona – had passed laws mandating that abortion providers stick to the previous FDA protocol, the Associated Press reported. The Arkansas and Oklahoma laws were stayed pending legal challenges, and a court struck down Arizona’s.
 
The Times said the new guidelines’ implications for existing state laws were “not immediately clear.”
 
Ohio’s law restricting “off-label” use of mifepristone corresponded to a decrease in the percentage of abortions performed via drugs rather than surgery from 10-15 percent to less than 2 percent, AP reported.
 
LifeSiteNews claimed prescribing a lower dose of mifepristone than the previous FDA recommendation saved approximately $200 per abortion for providers, though there is no evidence abortionists passed that savings along to patients.
 
Mifepristone works by blocking the hormone progesterone, which “is needed for a pregnancy to continue,” according to the FDA. The lack of progesterone “causes the newly implanted child to detach from the mother’s uterine wall,” LifeSiteNews noted. A follow-up drug known as misoprostol, taken 24-48 hours later, works with mifepristone to cause uterine contractions and expel the baby.
 
The later mifepristone is administered during pregnancy, the greater its likelihood of failure, according to video posted on LifeSiteNews.com featuring obstetrician Anthony Levatino. At nine weeks, one in 10 attempts to induce abortion using mifepristone fails, he said.
 
With mifepristone-induced abortions, deceased babies “often” are expelled in toilets and flushed, Levatino said.
 
The FDA website states mifepristone “is only available to be dispensed in certain healthcare settings” and “is not available in retail pharmacies” or “over the Internet.” Authorized dispensers must ensure provision of “any necessary surgical intervention” and access to “medical facilities for emergency care.”
 
The newly-approved FDA label requires a follow-up visit to a woman’s health care provider 7-14 days following administration of the drug “to be sure you are well” and “the pregnancy has passed from your uterus.” The label continues, “If you are still pregnant, your healthcare provider will talk with you about a surgical procedure to end your pregnancy.”
 
National Right to Life’s Randall O’Bannon argued in an online commentary that even with the new guidelines’ reduced dosage, chemical abortions remain dangerous for women – not to mention the babies whose lives are taken.
 
“For women, the mifepristone/misoprostol combination comes with significant cramping, bleeding, and other gastrointestinal side effects (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) that are expected parts of the chemical abortion process,” wrote O’Bannon, NRL’s director of education and research.
 
“While it may be claimed that these side effects are supposed to be reduced with the new protocol, chemical abortions simply do not occur without significant bleeding, cramping, etc. That these side effects are similar to signs of ruptured ectopic pregnancy, serious infection, or may be the prelude to significant hemorrhage that could be missed by patients or even doctors expecting these as part of any chemical abortion would still appear to be a problem under any protocol,” O’Bannon wrote.
 
The FDA label confirms “cramping and bleeding are an expected part of ending a pregnancy.” It adds a warning that more serious side effects may occur, including death, but notes such “problems” can also occur during surgical abortions or childbirth.
 
O’Bannon concluded, “In the end, it is obvious that the FDA’s new protocol serves only the interests of the abortion industry by expanding their base of potential customers, increasing their profit margin, and reducing the level of staff and amount of resources they have to devote to the patient.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/1/2016 11:48:34 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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