April 2016

God & politics: Mohler, Thomas revisit disagreement

April 28 2016 by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS

Christians should be involved in the political process but remember their ultimate hope lies beyond any office or vote, said evangelical thinkers R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Cal Thomas at the April 25 “God and Politics” event at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS).
Mohler, SBTS president, and Thomas, a political pundit and syndicated columnist, discussed their views regarding the religious beliefs of political candidates before a full Alumni Memorial Chapel in Louisville, Ky.
Although the event came about after a public disagreement on this issue, Mohler and Thomas agreed that ironclad biblical promises transcend those of waffling political candidates.
“If Christ is King and God is sovereign and our citizenship is ultimately in heaven, then we shouldn’t have our equilibrium thrown off too much by any election,” Mohler said.


SBTS Photo by Emil Handke
R. Albert Mohler Jr. (left) and Cal Thomas discuss personal faith and politics at a "God and Politics" event at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Thomas said American efforts toward nationwide moral improvement have failed because they misdiagnose the root problem. America does not primarily suffer from failed leadership, Thomas said, but human sinfulness. Christians should then start by recognizing true change is spiritual.
“We who are followers of Jesus of Nazareth have been given a greater power than the politics of our country. It is the power of redemption,” Thomas said. “We are not going to redeem America from the outside through political leadership – as important as that may be. The only power that is going to redeem people comes from within.”
Thomas argued in a February USA Today column that Republican presidential candidates should “cut the God talk” from their campaigns and instead run on their political qualifications. Mohler disagreed during his February 10 edition of his podcast “The Briefing,” noting that religious beliefs are inherently bound up with a candidate’s policy-shaping worldview.
Thomas then contacted Mohler and recommended they discuss the matter publicly, which led to the “God and Politics” event.
The evening began with some brief rhetorical sparring between the two thinkers, an extension of their February disagreement through public discourse. Mohler maintained Christians ought to know about each candidate’s religious beliefs because those beliefs shape decisions made in office. Thomas countered by arguing those ostensibly religion-influenced policy decisions are often not as cut-and-dried as they seem.
Mohler noted the modern dichotomy between candidates’ political platforms and their personal religious belief systems began during John F. Kennedy’s presidency in the 1960s. Kennedy emphasized the distinction between being a “Catholic candidate” and a “candidate who happened to be Catholic,” Mohler said, rendering his personal faith less decisive in the election.
In response to Thomas quoting the late evangelical leader Chuck Colson, who said Jesus won’t return to save his church on Air Force One, Mohler warned Christians might swing from over-zealous patriotism to passive political apathy.
“I think Chuck Colson was certainly right when he said national revival was not going to ride in on Air Force One,” Mohler said. “Here’s my concern: I’m afraid that a lot of evangelical Christians are going to decide it now doesn’t matter who rides on Air Force One.”
Although Thomas acknowledged the upcoming 2016 presidential election was deeply important, perhaps determining the direction of the United States Supreme Court for the next 40 years, he said, “The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Judge.” Quoting at length Abraham Lincoln, who once wrote that America needed to humble itself to its Creator and ask for forgiveness, Thomas said only repentance – not any political candidate – can restore the United States.
“That’s the road back, it is the only road back,” Thomas said. “It is not through the Republican or Democratic party, it’s not through the Socialist candidate, it’s not through Washington. It is through the cross.”
Audio and video from the “God and Politics” event will soon be available online at sbts.edu/resources.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew J.W. Smith writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

4/28/2016 10:20:27 AM by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS | with 0 comments

Rally defends HB 2 against ‘preposterous’ allegations

April 27 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Crowds of people from across North Carolina gathered April 25 on the open lawn outside the state’s legislative offices in Raleigh to show support for House Bill 2 (HB 2), also called the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act. Speakers at the Halifax Mall rally denounced so-called “preposterous” allegations against the new law, which claim HB 2 is discriminatory, unprecedented, anti-Christian and responsible for economic backlash against the state.
The event coincided with the opening day of the legislature’s 2016 short session.
With roaring applause, approximately 4,800 demonstrators thanked state leaders who sponsored and voted for HB 2, despite harsh criticism leveled at the bill from pro-LGBT activist groups, corporations, music artists, the White House and United Kingdom.


Photo by K. Allan Blume
Crowds of people from across North Carolina gathered April 25 on the open lawn outside the state’s legislative offices in Raleigh to show support for House Bill 2 (HB 2), also called the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.

Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill March 23 to preempt a local ordinance passed by the Charlotte City Council that would have opened restrooms to people based on the gender identity of their choice. HB 2 overturned that policy by requiring state buildings and public schools to designate bathrooms and changing facilities for use according to the biological sex indicated on a person’s birth certificate.
Bill supporters said the Charlotte ordinance could have allowed sexual predators to exploit the non-discrimination policy, endangering women and children, and forced business owners to comply with behaviors contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Rep. Dan Bishop, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said it “restored long-standing customary bathroom policy for government facilities and removed mandates that the city of Charlotte attempted to impose on over 20,000 businesses for a radically new management policy for bathrooms and private facilities.”
Bishop rejected the widespread notion that HB 2 is discriminatory, saying that idea comes from “a new form of activism that is virulent and dangerous.” He described backlash against the bill as a “dishonest, media-fueled, ideological carpet bombing.”
John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, agreed. “Opponents of House Bill 2 have claimed that [it] is ‘the most egregious, sweeping, hate-filled, anti-LGBT legislation in this country’s history,’” he said. “This is absolutely preposterous. … [fueling] a level of hysteria and deception that I have not seen in 25 years of work in the public policy arena.”
Rustin continued, “Far from making some radical departure from the national norm, as they claim, this bill simply establishes a common sense statewide bathroom privacy and safety law … the standards set in HB 2 are practically identical to the standards that currently exist in federal law and the standards that exist in a majority of states across the nation.”
Some opponents cite religious reasons for overturning the law, according to Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.


Photo by K. Allan Blume
Rep. Dan Bishop rejected the widespread notion that HB 2 is discriminatory, saying that idea comes from “a new form of activism that is virulent and dangerous.”

Creech read aloud an email he received with the subject line, “Sad and outraged,” from a former colleague. The message said, “Under any theological interpretation I fail to see how this becomes the basis on which HB 2 is written, enacted and signed: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’”
He responded, “I, too, am sad and outraged – sad and outraged that you would interpret the greatest commandment to mean that women and young girls should be forced to undress or shower in the presence of men, denying their fundamental right to privacy. … I am sad and outraged that you would think that somehow this is neighborly love.”
Mark Harris, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte and U.S. congressional candidate, called down allegations that HB 2 is responsible for the economic backlash against the state from large corporations.
Online payment company PayPal announced April 5 that it is withdrawing plans to open a global operations center in Charlotte, allegedly costing the city hundreds of jobs. CEO Dan Schulman said the new law “invalidates protections” of LGBT rights in a statement on the company website.
Dozens of other large corporations – including Google, Bank of America and Apple – have openly criticized HB 2 or taken steps to restrict business activity in the state.
“When people ask me, ‘What do you think about the economic challenges being faced as a result of this?’” Harris said, “I’m quick to point out, any economic loss for North Carolina due to this issue must be placed squarely at the feet of Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and the members of the Charlotte City Council who voted for [the sexual orientation and gender identity ordinance] in the beginning.”
Major retail chain Target announced a new bathroom policy April 19 that welcomes “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”
Multiple rally speakers, including Concerned Women for America CEO and president Penny Young Nance, encouraged attendees to pledge a boycott against the company, sponsored by the American Family Association, which has received more than 750,000 signatures.

“We’re not afraid of transgender people," said Nance. "We’re afraid of the sexual predators who will prey on the weak and defenseless.”
Rallies opposing HB 2 took place only blocks away in downtown Raleigh, which ended in 54 arrests after protestors interrupted proceedings in the House chamber. The Human Rights Campaign held a press conference showcasing 26 boxes of petitions against the new law, which they presented to the state Capitol.
The governor issued a press release later that evening which said alleged petitions only filled two of the boxes and the overwhelming majority of signatures were from out-of-state.
In addition to public outcry against the bill, HB 2 now faces strong opposition in both the judicial and legislative branches of government. A federal lawsuit was filed against the bill only days after it was passed for “singling out LGBT people for disfavored treatment.”
Democratic House members Darren Jackson, Grier Martin, Graig Meyer and Susi Hamilton introduced legislation (HB 946) that threatens a wholesale repeal of the law just hours before the pro-HB 2 rally in downtown Raleigh.
Their efforts contrasted the call issued by rally organizer and president of Return America, Ron Baity, who pleaded with lawmakers, “Stay the course!”

Related Stories:

‘Pro-HB 2’ rally thanks lawmakers, McCrory issues exec. order
Businesses fuel economic debate over N.C. bathroom law

4/27/2016 12:24:15 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Target transgender policy: Protests escalate

April 27 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

With nearly three-quarters of a million people signing on to boycott Target over the retailer’s transgender restroom policy, evangelical leaders are discussing whether consumer boycotts are an effective means of cultural engagement.
Many conservative evangelicals apparently disagree with Target’s policy of allowing customers to use whichever restroom or fitting room corresponds to their perceived “gender identity.” Yet some – like the American Family Association (AFA) and the watchdog group Faith Driven Consumer – have urged a boycott while others – including Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity heads R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Russell Moore – have discussed the limitations of boycotts and asked whether one is appropriate in this instance.
The discussion stems from an April 19 news release from Target stating, “We welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”


The release added that Target “supports the federal Equality Act.” In a separate release, Target stated the proposed federal legislation “would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and ban discrimination in areas including employment, housing, access to credit, public education and accommodations.”
In response, the American Family Association launched an online campaign seeking commitments from consumers to boycott Target. As of late afternoon April 26, more than 760,000 people had signed the pledge, which is being promoted with the hashtag #BoycottTarget.
“Corporate America must stop bullying people who disagree with the radical left agenda to remake society into their progressive image,” AFA President Tim Wildmon said in an April 21 news release. “#BoycottTarget has resonated with Americans. Target’s harmful policy poses a danger to women and children. Predators and voyeurs would take advantage of the policy to prey on those who are vulnerable.
“It’s clear now that many customers agree. Target shoppers are leaving their allegiance to the store behind – and by the thousands every hour. No store can withstand that sort of loss,” Wildmon said.
Faith Driven Consumer (FDC) launched a campaign urging consumers to shop at 10 alternative stores “offering products in competition with Target,” according to an April 26 news release. The campaign particularly encourages shopping at Walmart and is being promoted with the hashtag #BUYcottWalmart.
“There’s a critical business lesson to be learned with Target’s recent decision,” FDC founder Chris Stone said. “When including one group, don’t expressly exclude another. In its statement explaining why it is allowing men in women’s bathrooms and changing rooms, Target pointed out that inclusivity is at its core, and that everyone deserved to be protected equally.
“However, hundreds of thousands of consumers around the country are expressing frustration because they specifically feel excluded by Target’s actions and, more importantly, unprotected and unsafe in Target stores,” Stone said.
Each of the 10 suggested alternate retailers received a higher score than Target on FDC’s Faith Equality Index, which uses a 100-point scale to evaluate companies’ engagement with faith-driven consumers. The top three retailers on the list are Hobby Lobby (57/100), Walmart (51/100) and Aldi (47/100).
Still, Walmart received a 90/100 rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Corporate Equality Index, which evaluates companies’ engagement with the homosexual, bisexual and transgender community. HRC credited Walmart with, among other so-called accomplishments, including sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policies and being willing to support an LGBT employee resource group.
Such realities led Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, to conclude April 26 in his daily podcast The Briefing, “There is no perfect economic stance from which to operate without some complicity in larger moral questions in the economy.”
A Target boycott may be an appropriate step, Mohler said, but it should be undertaken with full knowledge “that there is no safe business in which to shop” morally speaking.
Mohler explained, “Even if we know the owner of the shop and we know how he or she organizes the business, there is a supply chain behind and a web of relationships beyond” that likely includes some morally questionable business dealings. “That doesn’t mean this isn’t important. It does mean that it is complex, and you can’t reduce faithfulness to something as easy as the question of ‘boycott: yes or no?’
“Should Christians boycott Target? That’s a question that I do not believe has an answer. Should you boycott Target? That is a matter of your Christian conscience,” Mohler said.
Gene Mims, chairman of the 2005 SBC Resolutions Committee that proposed ending the convention’s eight-year boycott of The Disney Company over some of its products and policies, said it is “always appropriate for anybody to boycott according to their convictions.” It’s also appropriate for evangelical denominations to “consider” more official boycotts with specific aims.
But he said it appears premature to declare whether the SBC should call for a Target boycott.
“Right now I think what people are feeling [about Target] is not as measured as it should be,” said Mims, pastor of Judson Baptist Church in Nashville. “A denomination like the SBC has a Resolutions Committee that can really grind away on this and get to the purpose” of any potential boycott.
The SBC already has spoken to transgenderism in a 2014 resolution on “transgender identity,” Mims said, and positioned itself well to address the topic going forward with or without an official Target boycott.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, pointed on Twitter to a 2012 blog post he wrote on a potential Starbucks boycott as applicable to the Target situation. In 2012, the Starbucks board cited support for same-sex marriage as a core value of the company.
A Christian boycott, Moore wrote, is not “always evil or wrong.” But with some boycotts, “Christians are tempted ... to fight like the devil to please the Lord” by entering contests with their cultural opponents over “who has more bullying power.”
“We don’t persuade our neighbors by mimicking their angry power-protests,” Moore wrote. “We persuade them by holding fast to the gospel, by explaining our increasingly odd view of marriage, and by serving the world and our neighbors around us, as our Lord does, with a towel and a foot-bucket.
“We won’t win this argument by bringing corporations to the ground in surrender,” Moore wrote. “...We’ll engage this argument when we have a more exalted, and more mysterious, view of sexuality than those who see human persons as animals or machines.”
The SBC’s resolutions on the Disney boycott and transgender identity are available at sbc.net/resolutions.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/27/2016 12:18:18 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

End times, rapture & Antichrist focus of new study

April 27 2016 by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research

Most Protestant pastors believe Jesus will return in the future. But few agree about the details of the apocalypse, a new study shows.
A third of America’s Protestant pastors expect Christians to be raptured – or taken up in the sky to meet Jesus – as the end times begin. About half think a false messiah known as the Antichrist will appear sometime in the future. A surprising number think the Antichrist has already been here or isn’t on his way at all.
Those are among the findings of a new telephone survey of 1,000 Protestant senior pastors and their views on end-times theology from Nashville-based LifeWay Research, sponsored by Charisma House Book Group.


Graphic by LifeWayResearch.com

End-times theology remains popular with churchgoers, says Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research. But it’s not an easy topic to preach about.
“Most people want their pastor to preach about the Book of Revelation and the end of the world,” he said. “But that’s a complicated task. Pastors and the scholars they cite often disagree about how the end times will unfold.”


No consensus about the rapture

Researchers found widely varying views about three aspects of end-times theology:

  • The timing of the rapture (see 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 and Matthew 24)

  • The nature of the Antichrist (found in 1 John and 2 John and other texts)

  • The millennial kingdom, when Jesus reigns for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-10)

About a third (36 percent) of Protestant senior pastors believe in the kind of pre-tribulation rapture familiar to pop culture. In that scenario, Christians disappear at the start of the apocalypse. Those left behind suffer great trouble or tribulation.
One in 4 pastors say the rapture is not literal. Nearly 1 in 5 thinks the rapture happens after the tribulation (18 percent). A few believe the rapture already happened (1 percent) or that it will occur during the tribulation (4 percent) or before the wrath of God is poured out on the earth (4 percent). Others don’t agree with any of these views (8 percent) or aren’t sure what will happen (4 percent).
Mainline Protestant pastors (36 percent) are more likely to say the rapture isn’t literal. Pastors who hold this view include about half of Lutherans (60 percent), Methodists (48 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (49 percent). Few Baptist (6 percent) or Pentecostal pastors (less than 1 percent) hold that view.
Evangelicals overall (43 percent) are more likely to believe in a pre-tribulation rapture.
Education and age also play a role in how pastors view the rapture. Pastors with a master’s degree (33 percent) or a doctorate (29 percent) are more likely to say the rapture isn’t literal than those with no degree (6 percent) or a bachelor’s (16 percent).


Graphic by LifeWayResearch.com

Sixty percent of pastors with no college degree believe in a pre-tribulation rapture. By contrast, 26 percent of pastors with a master’s hold that view.
Pastors under 45 are least likely to believe in a pre-tribulation rapture (28 percent), compared to their older cohorts. They’re also most likely (23 percent) to believe in a post-tribulation rapture.


Most expect the Antichrist, disagree on timing

LifeWay Research also found diverse views about the Antichrist.
About half (49 percent) say the Antichrist is a figure who will arise in the future. Others say there is no individual Antichrist (12 percent); that, he is a personification of evil (14 percent) or an institution (7 percent). Six percent say the Antichrist has already been here.
Baptists (75 percent) and Pentecostals (83 percent) are most likely to see a future Antichrist. Lutherans (29 percent), Methodists (28 percent) and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (31 percent) are more likely to see the Antichrist as a personification of evil.
Education also played a role in how pastors see the Antichrist. Two-thirds of those with no college degree (68 percent) or a bachelor’s (63 percent) believe in a future Antichrist figure. Fewer than half of those with a master’s (39 percent) or a doctorate (49 percent) hold that view.


Premillennialism is commonplace

Pastors also disagree about the details of the millennial kingdom. About half (48 percent) believe in premillennialism, the view that the 1,000-year reign of Christ happens in the future. A third (31 percent) believe in amillennialism, the view that there’s no 1,000-year reign – instead Jesus already rules the hearts and minds of Christians.
One in 10 (11 percent) believe in postmillennialism – the idea that the world will gradually become more Christian until Jesus returns.
Most pastors were split by denomination:

  • Baptists (75 percent) and Pentecostals (84 percent) are most likely to choose premillennialism.

  • Lutherans (71 percent) were most likely to choose amillennialism, followed by Presbyterian/Reformed pastors (52 percent) and Methodists (37 percent).

  • Methodists (27 percent) were more likely than other denominations to choose postmillennialism.

Education also played a role. Premillennialism is popular with those with no college (71 percent) or a bachelor’s degree (63 percent).
Amillennialism is favored by those with a master’s degree (41 percent). Billy Hallowell, author of the upcoming book The Armageddon Code: One Journalist’s Quest for End-Times Answers, said the research quantifies the prevalence of different end-times theories.
“I’m hoping the data opens a discussion about preachers’ eschatological beliefs, why they hold those ideas, and how congregants and faith leaders can better understand the biblical texts,” he said.
McConnell said it’s not a bad thing that pastors disagree on the details of the apocalypse. Most agree on the main teachings about the second coming. The rest of the details, he noted, don’t affect the day-to-day life of most Christians.
“The big picture of Revelation is clear – Jesus returns, people must be ready, evil is defeated,” he said. “With the rest of the details, there is room for disagreement.”
Methodology: The phone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted Jan. 8-22, 2016. These questions were sponsored by Charisma House Book Group. The calling list was a random sample stratified by church size drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. The full survey report is available at LifeWayResearch.com.
LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect the church.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine.)

4/27/2016 12:09:33 PM by Bob Smietana, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments

Southeastern trustees elect new faculty

April 27 2016 by Harper McKay, SEBTS

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) trustees elected four new faculty members during their April 18-19 spring meeting in addition to voting on curriculum revisions and approving the 2016-17 budget.


Southeastern’s newest faculty members are:

  • Keith Whitfield, SEBTS vice president for academic administration, elected as assistant professor of theology. Whitfield, who came to the seminary in 2014, has served as associate dean of The College at Southeastern (C@SE) and as associate vice president of institutional effectiveness. Whitfield holds a doctor of philosophy degree from Southeastern; master of divinity and master of theological studies degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; and an undergraduate degree from Clemson University in South Carolina.

  • Matthew Mullins, elected as assistant professor of English and history of ideas. Mullins holds a doctorate in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; a master of arts in English from North Carolina State University; and an undergraduate degree in history of ideas and biblical studies from C@SE.

  • Joshua Waggener, an SEBTS faculty member in music and worship education since 2008, elected as assistant professor of music and Christian worship. Waggener holds a doctorate in musicology from Durham University in England; a master’s degree in music from the University of Georgia; a master’s degree in church music from Southeastern; and an undergraduate degree in music from Trinity University in San Antonio.

  • Benjamin Quinn, elected as assistant professor of theology and history of ideas. Quinn currently serves as the seminary’s associate dean for institutional effectiveness and as C@SE program coordinator of general education. He holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom; master of divinity in Christian ministry and master of theology in Christian ethics from Southeastern; and an undergraduate degree in biblical studies from Union University in Tennessee.

Four faculty members received promotions during the trustee meeting: Keith Harper to senior professor of Baptist studies, Kenneth Keathley to senior professor of theology, Larry Purcell to professor of theology and Alvin Reid to senior professor of evangelism and student ministry.
Trustees also reviewed and approved curriculum revisions and additions at the undergraduate and graduate levels. These actions created new bachelor of arts and science degrees; approved curriculum revisions in biblical studies, ministry studies and theological studies; and updated the seminary’s advanced M.Div. degree.
A $26.5 million budget was approved by trustees for the 2016-17 academic year, a 2.2 percent increase over the current budget.
To conclude their meeting at the Wake Forest, N.C., campus, trustees gathered around the newly elected faculty to commission them in prayer.
In addition to the trustee meeting, Southeastern hosted its biannual meeting of the Southeastern Society (SES) where donors and ministry partners receive an update on the happenings of the seminary and college.
SES members heard a report from President Danny Akin that overall student enrollment is up 123 students from last year, making 2016 the sixth year of record enrollment for SEBTS. They also had the opportunity to meet and pray for several 2+2 missions students and participate in a Skype call with an SEBTS student living in Prague, Czech Republic.
At the annual trustee and SES banquet, held at Richland Creek Community Church, Akin asked SEBTS ministry partners and donors to continue to pray, send and support the seminary’s students, faculty and staff as a partnership in fulfilling the Great Commission.
“We consciously, intentionally say ‘every classroom a Great Commission classroom, every professor a Great Commission professor and every student a Great Commission student’ who we pray will become a Great Commission graduate who will go out and lead Great Commission churches,” Akin said.
During Tuesday chapel, Akin recognized three trustees for their service, Stacy Davidson, Chris Griggs and Henry Williamson, who will rotate off the board this year.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Harper McKay is a news and information specialist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

4/27/2016 12:04:44 PM by Harper McKay, SEBTS | with 0 comments

ERLC brief opposes hostility against religion

April 27 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A church daycare center’s participation in a state’s playground resurfacing program would not violate the First Amendment ban on government establishment of religion, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has told the U.S. Supreme Court.
The ERLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief April 15 in opposition to lower court rulings that upheld a Missouri government decision against the daycare’s application to participate in the playground resurfacing program. The state rejected the request by Trinity Lutheran Church Learning Center in Columbia, Mo., citing the Missouri constitution’s ban on government funding for religion.
In its brief, the ERLC said it is not just concerned with “the unjustified treatment” of Trinity Lutheran Church “but also with the overall trend of churches and religious actors being excluded from participating in government programs.”


“This disturbing trend cuts against the values undergirding the Free Exercise, Establishment, and Equal Protection Clauses, which protect religion from being treated with hostility,” according to the brief. “Missouri’s express discrimination against religion should be declared unconstitutional.”
ERLC President Russell Moore said the case “is about maintaining that long-held American principle that state neutrality toward religions does not mean state hostility toward religious people.”
“Separation of church and state means, among other things, that the state should not discriminate against religious people simply because they are religious,” Moore said.
“Here we have yet another example of a misguided attempt to put an ideological price tag on civic engagement,” he said. “The work of churches such as this one is good for communities, and my prayer is that the Supreme Court would recognize this good and not force a choice between public service and faith.”
The Supreme Court announced in January it would review the opinion of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, but it will not hear oral arguments in the case until its next term, which begins in October.
The Lutheran daycare and preschool sought to increase safety on its playground – one the church says also is used by children in the neighborhood – by applying for acceptance in a state-run program that provides rubberized surfaces made from recycled tires.
A Southern Baptist, father-and-son lawyer team is representing the church in cooperation with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). They contend the state’s action resembles hostility and discrimination toward religion.
“The State’s only interest here should be children’s safety,” Jonathan Whitehead said in a written statement after filing a brief on the merits with the high court. “These kids skin their knees when they fall on the playground just like other kids.
“Programs, such as the one in this case, that evenhandedly allocate aid to a broad class of recipients without regard to religion, generally do not violate the Establishment Clause; indeed this Court has held that singling out religious entities for exclusion is unconstitutional,” Whitehead said.
Jonathan Whitehead and his father, Michael, are members of Abundant Life Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit, Mo.
ADF Senior Counsel Erik Stanley said Missouri “cannot single out this preschool for exclusion from the program because it is operated by a church. The U.S. Constitution prohibits this type of hostility to religion.”
The ERLC’s brief, written by Denver lawyer Michael Francisco, contends the exclusion of churches from neutral government programs does “not fulfill the ‘benevolent neutrality’“ long embraced by the Supreme Court.
The ERLC is concerned the justices’ “Religion Clause precedent is being misunderstood and misapplied by lower courts to sanction discrimination against churches,” the brief says.
The question of whether the church’s participation in the Missouri program constitutes direct or indirect government funding does not apply in this case, according to the ERLC brief.
Though the direct or indirect funding issue has been prominent in the Supreme Court’s establishment clause opinions, “it has never been used to justify a targeted exclusion of religious applications from a program of general, secular government aid,” the ERLC says in its brief.
“Allowing churches to participate in secular government aid programs like the Missouri scrap tire program is far closer to general government programs such as fire and sewer services than it is to the educational indoctrination concerns or government funding of essentially religious endeavor,” according to the ERLC brief.
The case is Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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4/27/2016 11:57:12 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Fatal shooting leaves Pennsylvania church ‘grieved’

April 26 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Investigators are seeking to determine whether a fatal shooting April 24 during a worship service at a Philadelphia-area Southern Baptist church was “justified under the law,” according to media reports.
Keystone Fellowship Church, a congregation with four campuses in the Philadelphia area, confirmed on Facebook that “one man was shot and another is being questioned by police” regarding an incident that occurred during the 11 a.m. worship service at its Montgomeryville campus in North Wales, Pa. The victim, 27-year-old Robert Braxton, died less than an hour later at an area hospital, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Both men involved were church members, and the incident occurred in an aisle between the front and back sections of the congregation’s worship center, Montgomery County, Pa., district attorney Kevin Steele’s office told Baptist Press. The shooting took place as worshipers sang a hymn, The Inquirer reported.


Screen capture from NBC10.
One man was killed during a shooting April 24 at Keystone Fellowship’s campus in North Wales, Pa.

The shooter, whose name has not been released, was not taken into custody and is cooperating with police, according to The Inquirer. Steele’s office said the shooter was licensed to carry a concealed handgun but was not a law enforcement official.
Pastor John Cope told the congregation in an April 25 letter, “Words can never convey the sorrow we are feeling in light of the tragic shooting at our Montgomeryville campus on Sunday, April 24. My heart is deeply burdened for the two families whose lives were changed in an instant, and for our church family individually and collectively as we grapple with the shock and pain of it all. We need healing. We need the peace and comfort of God like never before.”
In an April 24 Facebook post, the congregation said it is “deeply grieved,” “shocked” and “heartbroken over what took place.” The post added, “Our congregation is in prayer for everyone involved.”
The shooter was injured during his altercation with Braxton and also was taken to the hospital, The Inquirer reported. There were at least two dozen witnesses among the hundreds of worshipers present, according to Philadelphia’s NBC10 news channel.
Steele told reporters April 24 the incident “was a disturbance that escalated into an altercation between two church members.” Investigators, he said, are trying to “determine if the shooting was justified under the law.”
Jimmy Meeks, a Texas-based church security expert, said representatives from Keystone apparently attended a church security seminar he conducted last year in Philadelphia.
Regardless of whether the shooting proves to be justified legally, Meeks said, it is “a horrible thing.”
Keystone members should “rally around each other and love each other,” said Meeks, a retired Hurst, Texas, police officer who trains churches across the U.S. in proper security procedures through what he calls Sheepdog Seminars. “There’s going to be a lot of anxiety and tension in the congregation for a very long time. I’m sure they’ll increase their security.”
Keystone scheduled “a time for prayer and comfort” Monday, April 25 at 7 p.m. at its campus in Schwenksville, Pa., according to the church’s Facebook page. The congregation added, “We also want to extend our sincere thanks to the many police officers and first responders for their kind assistance in these very difficult circumstances.”
Cope, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Great Commission Task Force in 2009-10, noted “that even though I am deeply saddened, I am also hopeful.”
He continued, “We serve a God who brings good out of the most tragic of circumstances, and I believe that we have an opportunity to unite as the body of Christ and overcome evil with good. Keystone has always been a church that loves God and loves people, not only with our words but with our actions.
“May the peace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ fill our hearts and minds in the days and weeks to come, and may we emerge from this tragedy stronger and more united than ever before,” Cope wrote.
Since 1999, there have been 626 violent deaths in U.S. houses of worship, according to statistics compiled by church security expert Carl Chinn. More deadly force incidents have occurred in Baptist churches during that timeframe than in churches of any other denomination, Chinn reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/26/2016 1:00:19 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pastors’ Conference to spotlight evangelism

April 26 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference president John Meador didn’t choose the “Live This!” theme of this year’s sessions in St. Louis.
He said it was burned on his heart several years ago as God convinced him through study of 2 Timothy 4:5-6 that he had not been leading his church in evangelism and that he – along with fellow pastors – needed to heed scripture’s call to “do the work of an evangelist.”
Naturally, when he was elected Pastors’ Conference president, that passage became the theme scripture for the June 12-13 gathering. It reads in full, “But as for you, be serious about everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close.


Meador, pastor of First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas, said he does “not believe pastors across America understand those verses.”
“I don’t think I understood them until a few years ago,” Meador said, when “God convicted me that ... I had not been doing that for close to 30 years. I had personally practiced [evangelism], but I hadn’t equipped our people.”
So Meador trained more than 600 adults to share the gospel over the past two years, with results he called “invigorating.” He hopes ministers leave this year’s conference with a similar drive to equip their congregations and with similar powerful results to follow.
The Pastors’ Conference will feature preaching, worship and prayer to undergird the ministry of pastors and their wives. The sessions at America’s Center will be held prior to the Southern Baptist Convention’s June 14-15 annual meeting there.
Attendees “will walk out with a very clear understanding” of the theme passage, Meador said.
Speakers for Sunday evening (June 12) at the Pastors’ Conference will include Noah Oldham, pastor of August Gate Church in St. Louis; and James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows, Ill.
Monday morning (June 13) will feature messages from David Platt, president of the International Mission Board; and Byron McWilliams, pastor of First Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas.
Monday afternoon speakers will include Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas; and Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research.
In a departure from previous Pastors’ Conference schedules, the Monday afternoon session will dismiss early so attendees can disperse to five breakout sessions geared toward pastors of different size churches. Each breakout will feature a question and answer period with one keynote speaker and several other leaders on how to mobilize church members to share the Gospel with their communities.
Monday evening speakers will include Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Greg Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif.
Worship will be led by the Passion worship band; Andy Johnson, worship pastor at First Baptist Euless; and Tim Whedbee, worship pastor at Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, Texas.
The Pastors’ Conference offering will go to a church in St. Louis to be announced.
This year’s leadership team, which includes Neil Franks, pastor of First Baptist Church in Branson, Mo., as vice president and Glynn Stone, pastor of Mobberly Baptist, as treasurer, hopes pastors from the Millennial generation will join their older counterparts at the conference. They believe the Passion worship band and extensive use of social media in Pastors’ Conference promotion will help Millennials connect.
“I don’t think anybody can deny that we are at an all-time low in evangelism,” Meador said. “I don’t think anyone can deny that no one is going to change this unless that pastor does. And because of those truths, I think this Pastors’ Conference is critical and crucial.”
The Pastors’ Conference is free and requires no registration. To learn more about this year’s schedule, sponsors and theme, visit sbcpc.net. You can also access information about the conference on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Child care for children ages birth through 12 years will be offered during all Pastors’ Conference sessions. Children ages 4-12 may register for a conference provided by Children’s Conferences International. Register at www.childrensconferences.com.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief child care volunteers will offer childcare for newborns through age 5 during the Pastors’ Conference.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/26/2016 12:55:13 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Loving God by loving others’ NAAF focus

April 26 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Promoting personal holiness, strengthening church ministry, and equipping pastors to navigate the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are goals of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) as it gathers June 11–13 in conjunction with the SBC Annual Meeting in St. Louis.
Praying, fasting and obeying God, while seeking “implicit and inexplicable love and unity in the church will hopefully bring revival” and a national spiritual awakening, NAAF President K. Marshall Williams told Baptist Press.


Baptist Press photo
K. Marshall Williams

“We are calling for a Greatest Commandment revival,” Williams said, to impact the church and culture by modeling love and unity in the church that will encourage national revival and spiritual awakening.
“My prayer for every God-called pastor, preacher-prophet and person in the pew,” Williams said, “is to personally and passionately pursue transparency with the Prince of Peace, in repentance for renewal, that will equip and encourage us to be ocular demonstrations and pictorial illustrations of incarnational truth, manifesting the power of God in a unified prophetic voice as Kingdom citizens of all ethnicities.”
“Loving God by loving others,” based on Micah 6:8, Matthew 22:37-40, and 1 John 3:14, is the annual meeting theme of the leaders from the 3,500–4,000 Southern Baptist African American churches and church-like missions.
NAAF will continue its mission to strengthen church ministry by hosting conferences and kingdom symposiums, and will pursue a “united prophetic voice in the body of Christ in policy and practicum,” Williams said.
NAAF will elect new officers at its business meeting June 13 at 4:00 p.m. in Room 242 of America’s Center. The slate of officers recommended at NAAF’s spring board meeting are Byron Day, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md., president; Marshall Ausberry, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church, in Fairfax Station, Va., vice president; Erik Cummings, pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Miami, secretary; Frank Williams, pastor of Wake-Eden Community Baptist Church in the Bronx, N.Y., treasurer; Bucas Sterling III, pastor of Kettering Baptist Church, in Upper Marlboro, Md., parliamentarian, and Robert Wilson, pastor of Light of the World Baptist Church in Atlanta, historian.
Ausberry will preach at NAAF’s annual worship service June 12 at 6:30 p.m. at Beth-El Baptist Church, 1809 New Jamestown Rd. in Spanish Lake, Mo. Emmett Baker Jr. is the host pastor.
K. Marshall Williams, senior pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., will deliver his final presidential address at the NAAF annual banquet, June 13 at 6:30 p.m. in Room 276 of America’s Center. Banquet tickets are $60, available at naafsbc.org.
NAAF will recognize Elgia “Jay” Wells upon his retirement as NAAF executive director, Williams said, a post Wells has held since 2013. Wells is pastor emeritus of Simeon Baptist Church in Antioch, Tenn. and former director of black church relations for LifeWay Christian Resources.
Participation in Crossover St. Louis, an evangelistic outreach in the annual meeting’s host city, and attendance at the 2016 National Conversation on Racial Unity, featuring SBC President Ronnie Floyd and National Baptist Convention USA President Jerry Young, are also on NAAF’s agenda.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

4/26/2016 12:45:57 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Alzheimer’s considerations include gospel

April 26 2016 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

Alzheimer’s disease grips millions of Americans with fear and hopelessness daily, yet the gospel can infuse a spiritual dynamic into the struggle, asserts a university psychologist and author. He suggests believers should prepare for the possibility that their lives could be upended by the increasingly common hardship.
“People will tell me beautiful stories of how their loved ones remembered the Lord even deep into dementia – sometimes through singing well-known hymns, reading familiar Bible passages or praying together,” said Benjamin Mast, author of Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the gospel During Alzheimer’s Disease.
More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s – a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior – and it’s the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.


An elder at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Ky., Mast is a board-certified geropsychologist and associate professor and vice chair in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Louisville.
“It’s clear in scripture that God remembers His people and takes care of them even when they have trouble remembering Him,” Mast said.
Tom James, pastor of Eastwood Baptist Church in Bowling Green, Ky., and a recent president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, said what it’s like walking the Alzheimer’s road with his wife Jan, a mother of three who is battling the disease at age 57.
DeeEdrah White, whose husband Kevin White is executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention and whose mother died last year after a struggle with Alzheimer’s, relayed some ways churches can minister to Alzheimer’s patients.
The title “Second Forgetting” refers to the way people, when devastated by Alzheimer’s, risk forgetting the hope and power of the gospel and can forget God as their comforter, provider and redeemer. Mast wrote the book to help people in the midst of the Alzheimer’s journey experience the grace and love of Christ.
Short-term memory is the first thing “to go” when a person suffers from dementia, Mast notes in the book, but a person’s deepest and most treasured memories tend to stay with them longer. For this reason, believers need to hear the gospel every day, he says.
“Despite the effect of the curse upon our physical bodies, [believers with Alzheimer’s] remain children of God, created in his image, and their identity and their life is still rooted securely in Christ,” Mast writes.
One particular man at a dementia day center, Mast recounts, became somewhat belligerent, believing he was being held against his will. “As the staff considered how to address this problem, one remembered that he was a Christian and suggested that someone read the Bible with him,” Mast writes.
“... Though he was still not sure of who I was or what he was doing in this strange place, as I sat next to him and read the Bible, the anger melted away. Soon, he was nodding in agreement with the words of God, whispering, ‘That’s right ... mmm hmm.’ ... For him, God’s Word was an anchor in the storm of his confusion. Reminded of the Lord’s goodness, he experienced peace.”
Mast writes, “By choosing how to live now, we are making choices about how we will live in the future.... Do you have a habit of daily prayer and scripture reading? In developing godly habits we make them a part of who we are and embed them in our souls and procedural memory systems. All of these are more resistant to the effects of Alzheimer’s disease.”

A caregiver’s perspective

James, the Kentucky pastor, has met Mast and benefited from his medical knowledge combined with a pastoral perspective, James said. James and his wife have been married for 31 years and recently welcomed their first grandchild. Jan, who he described as the ideal pastor’s wife, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year.
“They call Alzheimer’s the long goodbye, and it’s true,” James said. “Each day it seems like you lose just a little bit of them, and if you’re not careful you’ll spend your time dwelling on all of the plans that have gone by the wayside. Everybody plans what retirement is going to be like, what grandkids are going to be like.”
James has learned how important it is to minister to caregivers, he said, because “we have no idea what goes on when people go home.” He prays for patience.
“What happens is you find yourself getting frustrated with the person with the disease and then you get frustrated with yourself because you recognize that they can’t help it,” James said.
Keeping up communication with an Alzheimer’s patient is important, James advised church members. “Keep talking to them. Just accept that that’s who they are. I think sometimes we’re afraid that we’ll ask something or say something that might hurt them. So what ends up happening is they get hurt because people treat them differently and nobody talks to them.”
For a caregiver, don’t ask. Just do something, James said. “If you ask a caregiver, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ they’re going to tell you no or, ‘I don’t know.’ Just find something that you can do for them – cutting their grass, bringing them a meal, arranging for someone to sit with their loved one so they can go do whatever they want.”
Since his wife’s diagnosis, a church member has spent every Tuesday with her, taking her to the women’s prayer meeting, taking her to lunch and just hanging out with her, James said.
Though the Alzheimer’s trial is heavy and devastating, James emphasized that he made a vow to his wife and to the Lord when they married: “in sickness and in health” – never thinking it would happen to them. “You always assume the best,” he said. “A pastor friend made a statement to me one time: You love your spouse based on their position, not their performance.”
White, whose mother was married to a Southern Baptist pastor for more than 50 years, said she was more able to see that her mother was created in the image of God as the disease took its toll.
“As she became less herself the more clearly I could see that she was His creation, not for what she could do but for who she belonged to,” White said. “The last time we saw her, we wheeled her into the day room where they were having a church service and singing. She was trying to participate, and that image brought that thought to mind.”
White commended her mother’s church, Bethel Baptist Church in West Plains, Mo., as a great example of how to minister to a person with Alzheimer’s.
“They really worked at including her. They brought her into Sunday School class,” White said. “Of course, she wasn’t combative or given to outbursts, but what she said didn’t really make sense. They just would let her talk and then go to the next person. They would let her read out loud if she could. They kept her involved and integrated her into their lives. They made visits and sent meals and tried to help with cleaning and things that she had given up doing.”
Shortly before her mother died, White got the idea to put up a bulletin board in her room at the assisted living facility to show some of the things her mother did before she was sick.
“I feel like the caregivers need to know that’s a person who did all of these things and not just a bed to clean and a bother,” White said. “That’s an important thing to honor.”
For more information on walking the Alzheimer’s path from a Christian perspective, visit benjaminmast.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is a writer in Nashville.)

4/26/2016 12:33:15 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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