April 2016

State senator: Abortion & religious liberty battles similar

April 22 2016 by Alex Sibley, SWBTS

Texas state Sen. Konni Burton acknowledges that fighting for religious liberty is an uphill battle in today’s culture, but she sees hope.
Addressing students at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), Burton recalled the Supreme Court’s precedent-setting Roe v. Wade decision, pointing out that many thought it would end the discussion on abortion.
“But actually, it led to more and more discussion,” Burton said. “In the last few years we’ve made more progress, and the next generation is more pro-life than the last generation.”


Facebook photo
Sen. Konni Burton

Burton said pro-life legislators had to deal with the issue of abortion in incremental ways, passing bills targeting specific aspects of the practice, such as the relatively recent bill in Texas that closed numerous abortion clinics across the state. She concluded that, just as Roe v. Wade failed to silence the discussion on abortion, so recent court decisions will fail to end the protection of religious liberty.
The politics of religious liberty was the focus of a question-and-answer session in Southwestern’s “Grindstone” series April 4. Joining Burton on the panel was Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Assistant professor of ethics Evan Lenow moderated the discussion.
Duke noted that much of the conversation on religious liberty pertains not simply to one’s freedom of belief but also the larger issue of freedom of practice.
“There are many people who want to distinguish between religious freedom and freedom of worship,” Duke said. “They want to say, ‘You’re free to worship within the walls of your church building or your synagogue or your mosque, but once you leave the walls of that worship space, you’re under a different set of requirements and duties, and your religious freedom isn’t as sacrosanct as it is within the walls of your church building.’“
Driven by this mentality, efforts abound to restrict how people live out their religious beliefs, Duke said.
“Our position, and the position of many people around the states, is that it isn’t religious freedom if you can’t follow the dictates of your conscience in the way that you live and the way that you behave,” he noted.
Examining various ways that states are handling issues pertaining to religious liberty, Duke noted that a number of municipalities have passed local ordinances preventing employers from making hiring decisions based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Such ordinances are referred to as “SOGI” laws. These laws, Duke explained, essentially prevent faith-based businesses and people of faith from living out their religious beliefs.
In response, however, some states are attempting to pass laws that invalidate SOGI laws as discriminatory against people of faith, “which, in reality, they are,” Duke said. North Carolina, for example, passed a law saying that no local municipality can have a SOGI law that differs from state law. Tennessee passed a similar law several years ago.
Regarding such legislation in Texas, Burton said that while the state legislature is currently between sessions (they meet during odd-numbered years), lawmakers nevertheless are hard at work preparing bills for the next session. In fact, the State Affairs Committee received a charge from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to spend this interim period examining “measures to affirm First Amendment religious liberty protections in Texas” so they can then make recommendations “to ensure that the government does not force individuals, organizations or businesses to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
This interim period includes a vetting process in which people can voice their concerns regarding specific pieces of legislation, information about which is available online. Burton encouraged students to be involved in the process so their voices can be heard.
Addressing the notion that contacting state representatives is difficult, Lenow noted that in order to invite Burton to Southwestern, he simply emailed her through her website and received a response later that same day.
Burton counseled, “Make sure that you engage at every level and get good, pro-Constitution people in every level, and we will continue to fight. The good news is we are doing what it takes, and we’re not going to quit.”

4/22/2016 9:50:04 AM by Alex Sibley, SWBTS | with 0 comments

CROSSOVER: St. Louis Baptists ready for volunteers

April 21 2016 by Jim Burton, NAMB

The iconic Gateway Arch represents the pathway to the west for most travelers and locals.
For Tom Breeden, St. Louis Metro Baptist Association’s (SLMBA) executive director, it’s also the gateway to a mission field in need of hope. That’s why he welcomes the estimated 3,500 Southern Baptist volunteers who will converge on the metropolitan area June 11 for Crossover St. Louis.


File photo by Matt Miller
Taylor Warren, 4, part of a mission team from Eagle Lake, Fla., washes cars at a free car wash at Bloom Baptist Church in Lithopolis, Ohio. The event was part of a series of evangelistic outreaches called Crossover 2015 in Columbus, Ohio.

The scores of travelers who constantly cruise the I-70 corridor through Missouri’s largest city likely never see what Breeden sees. From the Arch to Lambert International Airport, they will pass neighborhoods unreached with the gospel – much like major cities in foreign lands.
“We have 12 unreached areas of St. Louis that don’t have a Southern Baptist church within a three-to-five-mile radius,” Breeden said. “Visitors driving on the I-70 corridor will pass some of the darkest and most dangerous areas of our city.”
During Crossover, volunteer teams will visit five of those areas to plant and water the gospel. Some of those volunteers may become part of the 25 church planters and church planting partners that SLMBA hopes to recruit long-term via the evangelism outreach, Breeden said.
One Southern Baptist church exists for every 7,872 St. Louis residents. St. Louis is a North American Mission Board (NAMB) Send City.
Mission projects along the I-70 corridor are among an estimated 75 initiatives in SLMBA seeking volunteers for music concerts, block parties, city beautification and projects designed to enhance SLMBA’s growing partnership with local school districts. Most of these projects will happen around existing SLMBA churches, with each having received a grant from NAMB and the association.
“From the beginning, we have asked our churches to dream and do more than they could ask or think from God on their own,” said Tom Firasek, SLMBA’s ministry and partnership coordinator. “We have churches getting on board that have done very little ministry outside their church walls.
“Our churches have received a new passion to reach their neighborhoods for Christ,” said Firasek, who is also serving as the local Crossover coordinator.


File photo by John Swain/NAMB
With the events of Ferguson, Mo., then still fresh on their minds, St. Louis Metro Baptist Association Director of Missions Jim Breeden (far left) and Tom Firasek, a member of St. Louis’ Maplewood Baptist Church, looked over Crossover planning at the Columbus Metro Baptist Association office on the Saturday morning of Crossover Columbus in 2015.

“Our vision is to enhance and enlarge what is already in place,” Breeden said. “We focus (daily) on starting, strengthening and sending churches on mission. That’s the focus of Crossover this year.”
Four more area associations in the 2.73 million St. Louis metro area are also planning Crossover events: Jefferson, Franklin and Two Rivers associations in Missouri, plus Metro East in Illinois.
Joel Southerland is NAMB’s executive director for evangelism and their point person for Crossover. He welcomes the group of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) seminaries that sponsors a weeklong practicum for an estimated 150 students from each of Southern Baptists’ six seminaries. The students will spend half a day in class and the rest of the day engaged in evangelism, both door-to-door and event evangelism, to support local churches.
“Many churches are doing evangelism projects for the first time in that pastor’s tenure,” Southerland said. “So we’re hoping the training that goes into big evangelism projects trains the church pastor for future evangelism endeavors.”
“We want Crossover to have a lasting impact on the church plants and the churches long after we’re gone,” Southerland said.
Send Relief compassion projects bring a new complementary dimension to Crossover this year by inaugurating NAMB’s new mobile medical and dental clinics. They will serve in the Ferguson area, which gained worldwide attention following riots fueled by racial tensions in 2014. Southern Baptists have recently replanted a church there.
Other Send Relief compassion projects will include hunger and poverty relief with local churches and a construction project called Home Fire Campaign, which will check and install fire alarms, according to David Melber, NAMB’s Send Relief vice president.
Firasek described details of some of the Crossover ministries/projects:

  • On the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, The Calling Church will carry out a major community cleanup project. This project will take place with the cooperation and support of the local government in Granite City, Ill. There will be people assigned in groups whose specific responsibility will be to share the Gospel with the people they meet.

  • In South St. Louis City, the Church at Bevo will host a block party in one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the city. One of their outside partners will include people from a Burmese-speaking church who have a passion for seeing a Burmese congregation started here.

  • Michael Byrd, pastor of Faith Community Bible Church in Baden, will host a block party in North St. Louis City. This area has not had a Baptist witness for many years and has one of the higher crime areas of our city.

Churches traveling to St. Louis can download a distance partner form at crossoverstlouis.com, or contact Firasek at (214) 225-1948 or tfirasek@stlbaptist.org.
Southern Baptists began Crossover evangelism events before the annual pastors’ conference and SBC’s meeting in 1989 in Las Vegas. A few years later, leaders branded the initiative as Crossover.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a writer and photojournalist based in Atlanta who writes for the North American Mission Board.)

4/21/2016 11:15:54 AM by Jim Burton, NAMB | with 0 comments

SBTS trustees approve $48M budget, elect faculty

April 21 2016 by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS

Trustees of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) unanimously approved all recommendations in the board’s April 18 meeting, which included the election of two faculty members, the budget for the 2016-17 academic year, and a $14-million renovation plan for Fuller Hall.


SBTS photo
Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. addresses the trustees during the board’s April 18 meeting.

In what the seminary is calling a “historic measure,” trustees approved the recommendation of its Financial Board for the 2016-17 budget of $48 million, an increase of 9.9 percent over the previous year.
The board also approved a $14-million renovation of Fuller Hall, which is the third phase of the 10-year Master Plan that began in 2012 to address deferred maintenance. The project will be completed by Michael Winstanley Architects & Planners and Messer Construction, who completed the renovation of the Mullins Complex in 2014. The renovated Fuller Hall will serve the seminary’s need to house the school’s growing enrollment.
Elected to the faculty, effective Aug. 1, were C. Berry Driver, professor of church history, and Michael S. Wilder, J. M. Frost Associate Professor of Leadership and Discipleship.
Driver has taught since 2014 at SBTS when he was appointed librarian of the James P. Boyce Centennial Library. Prior to coming to the seminary, Driver served for nearly 20 years as dean of libraries and professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He earned a doctor of philosophy at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, a master of science in library science from the University of Kentucky, a master of divinity from Southwestern, and a bachelor’s from the University of Alabama.


C. Berry Driver Jr.

Wilder, who is also senior pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Floyds Knobs, Ind., has taught at SBTS since 2006 and serves as associate vice president for doctoral studies. He earned his doctorate in Christian education from Southern in 2004, his master of divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and his bachelor’s from Clayton State College.
The trustees designated Daniel M. Gurtner as Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor of New Testament Interpretation, effective when he joins the faculty July 1. Since 2005, Gurtner has taught at Bethel Seminary as professor of New Testament. He received his doctorate from St. Andrews University in Scotland.
Trustees also elected two faculty members to endowed chairs: Randy L. Stinson, senior vice president for academic administration and provost, as Basil Manly Jr. Professor of Leadership and Family Ministry, effective Aug. 1, and Gregory A. Wills, dean of the School of Theology, as David T. Porter Professor of Church History, effective immediately.
Addressing the trustees, Mohler drew attention to record enrollment numbers, specifically citing the 1,200 students enrolled in Boyce College as “a sign of God’s favor” that the seminary’s undergraduate school would grow so quickly in less than 20 years of existence.


Michael S. Wilder

“In the course of the last 12 months, there have been over 5,000 students enrolled in the totality of Southern Seminary,” Mohler said. “That’s just never happened before. That’s an amazing number. I don’t think we ought to let that pass without imagining what that represents: Every one of those a precious life; every one of those an incredible potential for ministry.”
Mohler also encouraged the trustees to attend the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in St. Louis. “It’s a convention not to miss,” Mohler said, and he invited trustees to the seminary’s SBC alumni and friends luncheon, June 15 at noon in Ballroom 221 of America’s Center.
The board also:

  • elected without opposition the 2016-17 slate of officers: John Thweatt, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pell City, Ala., as chairman; Matt Schmucker, executive director of Together for the Gospel and a pastor at Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C., as first vice chairman; John Montgomery, dean of spiritual life at California Baptist University, as second vice chairman; and Clint Pressley, senior pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., as secretary.

  • recognized six outgoing trustees whose terms of service end in 2016: Brian Autry, from Richmond, Va.; E. Todd Fisher, from Shawnee, Okla.; Philip Gunn, from Clinton, Miss.; Perrin Powell, from Spartanburg, S.C.; Paul Taylor, from Orange, Texas; and Phillip West, from Valdosta, Ga.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – S. Craig Sanders is manager of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

4/21/2016 11:08:42 AM by S. Craig Sanders, SBTS | with 0 comments

Transgender student wins restroom case appeal

April 21 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A federal appellate court has “for the first time ever” held that a public high school may not provide separate restrooms and locker rooms for students on the basis of biological sex alone, according to dissenting judge’s opinion.
The fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., threw out a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit by a transgender student claiming the Gloucester County, Va., school board discriminated against her by not allowing her to use the boys’ restroom after she announced a supposed transition to being male. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972, the ruling stated, requires that schools receiving government funds prohibit gender-identity discrimination.
Rodney Autry, a Gloucester County pastor who joined an amicus brief supporting the school board, told Baptist Press the ruling could prove to be a “landmark decision.”
“This is a complete removal of time-honored precedent,” said Autry, pastor of Union Baptist Church in Hayes, Va. “... This is a rather sweeping kind of change in a short period of time,” he said, noting “just how short a period of time it’s been since this snowball began.”
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, classified the ruling as fruit of the sexual revolution.
“Separating men and women in restrooms isn’t discrimination,” Moore said. “It’s common sense policy that protects the vulnerable. Treating transgender students with respect doesn’t require sexualizing school locker rooms and restrooms. The sexual revolution presents a false choice between sexual nihilism and discrimination, a dichotomy we have to reject for everyone’s sake.”
The student who filed the lawsuit – identified in court documents only as G.G. – underwent hormone therapy, legally changed her name to a male name and asked to be treated as a male before her sophomore year of high school in 2014. She was allowed to use the boys’ restroom for “about seven weeks” before parents of other students complained, according to the ruling.
The school board eventually adopted a policy limiting restrooms and locker rooms to “the corresponding biological genders.” Students “with gender identity issues,” the policy stated, “shall be provided an alternative appropriate private facility.”
But the student claimed using a private unisex restroom made her feel “even more stigmatized.” That led to her avoiding restroom usage altogether at school and as a result, according to the ruling, developing multiple urinary tract infections.
G.G. made arrangements to fulfill physical education requirements “through a home-bound program” to avoid using locker rooms, the ruling states.
Two judges on a three-judge panel – both nominated by President Barack Obama – ruled a lower court erred by not interpreting Title IX’s ban of sex discrimination as including gender identity discrimination.
Although gender identity is not mentioned explicitly in Title IX, the judges said Supreme Court precedent requires that the Department of Education be allowed to interpret its own regulations where ambiguity exists. The department stated in a 2015 opinion letter, “When a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex ... a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”
The letter went on to “encourage schools to offer the use of gender-neutral, individual-user facilities to any student who does not want to use shared sex-segregated facilities.”
The Fourth Circuit also ruled the district court erred in its decision to bar the student from using boys’ restrooms while the case was pending. Both matters were remanded to the lower court for reconsideration according to the “correct standard.”
In the footnote, the ruling noted “the limitations of a nonmalleable, binary conception of sex.”
In a blistering dissent, Judge Paul Niemeyer, a George H.W. Bush appointee, called the majority’s ruling “unprecedented,” “unworkable” and “illogical.”
“This holding completely tramples on all universally accepted protections of privacy and safety that are based on the anatomical differences between the sexes,” Niemeyer wrote. “And, unwittingly, it also tramples on the very concerns expressed by G.G., who said that he should not be forced to go to the girls’ restrooms because of the ‘severe psychological distress’ it would inflict on him and because female students had ‘reacted negatively’ to his presence in the girls’ restrooms.
“Surely biological males who identify as females would encounter similar reactions in the girls’ restroom, just as students physically exposed to students of the opposite biological sex would be likely to experience psychological distress. As a result, schools would no longer be able to protect physiological privacy ... between students of the opposite biological sex,” Niemeyer wrote.
Autry, the Gloucester County pastor, cited “moral” and “practical” reasons for opposing the majority ruling.
Morally, the ruling “open[s] the door to far more issues of a sexual nature in our public schools than we can even anticipate at this point in time,” Autry said. Practically, “there were obviously workable solutions to this dilemma short of going nuclear,” he said, citing his experience as chancellor of a Christian school connected with a church he pastored.
“There was an easily discovered and employed pragmatic solution to the problem if the parties wanted an easily discovered and employed pragmatic solution to the problem,” Autry said. “It’s very painfully obvious that a solution was not what was sought. A systematic change was sought.”
Autry noted the need for compassionate ministry to individuals struggling with gender identity even as Christians contend for decency and safety in the public arena.
“My personal experience is I have yet to meet someone struggling with any gender identity issue who does not have some story of brokenness,” he said.
The case, G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, will be scheduled for further consideration before a district court.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/21/2016 11:03:41 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Trump’s New York win still leaves GOP nod uncertain

April 21 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Democratic and Republican frontrunners strengthened their leads April 19 in the races for their parties’ presidential nominations, but Donald Trump’s dominant win in New York provided no assurance he will be able to avoid an open convention.
Trump, the billionaire/celebrity, won 60 percent of the vote in his home state’s primary, gaining 89 of New York’s GOP delegates. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the runner-up, secured three delegates.
Hillary Clinton – the former first lady, secretary of State and United States senator from New York – captured 139 of the state’s Democratic delegates with 58 percent of the vote. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont gained 106 delegates.
Trump leads Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas by more than 300 delegates but faces a challenge in reaching the number required to win the nomination before the Republican convention. Clinton, meanwhile, holds an advantage of more than 700 delegates when superdelegates are counted.


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The continuing leads for Trump and Clinton keep alive the question of what evangelical Christians should do in the general election.
The “real possibility” of a Trump-Clinton race in the general election means many evangelical Christians will “face a situation in which they cannot throw their support behind either candidate,” Southern Baptist cultural commentator Bruce Ashford told Baptist Press.
Meanwhile, evidence exists in the primaries that some committed evangelicals are supporting Trump.
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, recently pointed to twin realities regarding evangelicals and Trump. “The more you go to church as an evangelical, the less likely you are to vote for Donald Trump,” Stetzer wrote in an April 15 blog post for Christianity Today. Yet, he said, “the most frequently chosen candidate of church-going evangelicals was Donald Trump.”
Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “Now is the time for evangelicals to begin repositioning ourselves as something other than the religious special interest arm of the Republican Party. Evangelicals who are registered Republicans and who have voted Republican in every election are still, first and foremost, Christians.
“Our allegiance to Christ and the gospel transcends our allegiance to the Republican Party,” he said. “If and when the GOP’s platform or politicians are at odds with our Christian convictions, we will leverage our Christianity to criticize the party’s nominee and aspects of the party’s platform.”
While some evangelical leaders have spoken against Trump’s candidacy, a few have thrown their support behind him. Jerry Falwell Jr., Liberty University’s president, has endorsed Trump, and Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, has spoken favorably of the candidate in appearances at his rallies but has not officially endorsed him.
Though many evangelicals and conservatives have pledged not to vote in the general election for either Trump or Clinton, the evangelical voting pattern in the GOP primaries is somewhat complex, Stetzer pointed out.
“Trump’s support declines with church attendance, but he is still the highest among church attendees...,” he wrote.
Trevin Wax, managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, commented on these realities in an April 19 blog post.
Many self-identified evangelicals who have voted for Trump “are cultural Christians who don’t attend church and who resonate with simplistic slogans like ‘God and country’ and ‘put America first,’” he wrote at The Gospel Coalition website. “Yes, many of Trump’s ‘evangelical voters’ go to prosperity-gospel churches that do not line up with historic evangelical beliefs and identity. But here’s the uncomfortable reality: some of Trump’s evangelical voters are church-going and do believe in evangelical doctrines.”
Evangelicals, Wax said, “must consider the reasons why many churchgoing evangelicals are also supporting Trump. If we fall back on the statistics and polls that minimize this reality, we will fail to ask hard questions about the state of our own congregations, about the political priorities among the people we know and love, about ongoing questions related to loving our neighbors (including immigrants), opposing racial injustice, and sustaining religious liberty for all.”
The resistance to Trump – including the use of the hashtag #NeverTrump on Twitter – has produced no-vote promises from evangelicals based on his apparent inconsistent and even harsh policy positions on such issues as abortion, religious liberty and immigration; his uncivil, insult-laden rhetoric; and a lifestyle marked by adultery. Questions also have been raised about some of his business enterprises.
In the Republican race, Trump has 844 pledged delegates, while Cruz – who finished third in New York – has 543 and Kasich 147. The nominee needs 1,237 delegates. Trump can reach that goal before the July 18-21 convention, but a strong showing by Cruz in the primary season’s next seven weeks could block the billionaire from clinching the nomination. That might result in a contested convention in Cleveland.
The next round of primaries – April 26 in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island – favors Trump, but Cruz is expected to perform much better in many of the states that follow.
Despite Trump’s win in New York “it is still more likely that the convention will be contested,” Ashford said.
“In the likely case that he does not win enough bound delegates, we will see a fracas break out, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1976 race between Reagan and Ford, as the candidates jostle with each other to woo delegates for the second ballot,” he said.
Gerald Ford, the incumbent president, turned back the challenge of Ronald Reagan at that year’s GOP convention.
On the Democratic side, Clinton holds what appears to be an insurmountable lead because of her overwhelming advantage among superdelegates. She leads Sanders in pledged delegates, 1,446 to 1,200. Yet, Clinton has 502 superdelegates, who are unpledged party leaders, while her opponent has only 38. Her total of 1,948 leaves her only 435 short of the 2,383 delegates needed for the Democratic nomination.
Clinton’s victory in New York “reveals just how difficult it would be for Sanders to secure the nomination,” Ashford said.
With 99 percent of the New York primary votes recorded at 1:30 p.m. EDT, Trump had won 60 percent, Kasich 25 percent and Cruz 15 percent. Clinton’s total was 58 percent, Sanders’ 42 percent.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/21/2016 10:59:07 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Study: Healthy babies can still be born after abnormal tests

April 21 2016 by Julie Borg, WORLD News Service

New research suggests women who terminate their pregnancies because of an abnormal prenatal test may be aborting perfectly healthy babies.
Doctors frequently offer birth defect tests to pregnant women whose babies are at increased risk of abnormalities. One of the tests that can be performed earliest in pregnancy, chorionic villus sampling (CVS) analyzes cells from the placenta between 11 and 14 weeks of gestation.
Physicians often believe the presence of abnormal cells indicates the baby will most likely be born with birth defects like Down syndrome. Some moms choose to abort their babies when the test results are abnormal.


Researchers at the University of Cambridge, who published their results in the journal Nature Communications, found even when half the cells of an early-stage mouse embryo were abnormal, the embryo was still able to fully repair itself because the abnormal cells self-destructed and healthy cells replaced them. In many cases, the process completely repaired a defective embryo, leaving it with all healthy cells even though some of the placental cells were still abnormal. Even in cases where 75 percent of an early-stage embryo’s cells were abnormal, the ratio of normal cells increased as the embryo developed.
“The embryo has an amazing ability to correct itself,” the senior author of the study, Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, said in a statement.
Zernicka-Goetz’s own experience as a 44-year-old expectant mom inspired her to conduct the research. A CVS test found that as many as a quarter of Zernicka-Goetz’s placental cells were abnormal. When she spoke to geneticists about the test results, she found very little information existed about the implications of abnormal cells or the fate of the baby.
Despite limited information about the meaning of test results, some experts lead women to believe the presence of abnormal cells means their baby will be born with birth defects.
The website for Britain’s National Health Service tells readers CVS gives “a definitive result in around 99 percent of cases.... If your test is positive, your baby has one of the disorders it was tested for.”
And according to WebMD, “CVS is considered to be 98 percent accurate in the diagnosis of chromosomal defects.”
When CVS shows abnormal cells, some health experts encourage women who are considering abortion to make a decision right away rather than wait until 15 to 20 weeks of gestation, when the more accurate amniocentesis test can be done.
“If a woman chooses to terminate the pregnancy after receiving abnormal test results, the pregnancy termination will be safer than if she waits for amniocentesis results,” the Cleveland Clinic states on its website.
Zernicka-Goetz continued her pregnancy and gave birth to a healthy baby boy. But some mothers make a different choice, “based on a test whose results we don’t fully understand,” she said.
The increased frequency of abnormal cells in the embryos of older women and mothers who have had in vitro fertilization make researching the ability of the embryo to repair itself imperative. Cells with abnormal chromosomes have been observed in as many as 80 to 90 percent of human early-stage embryos following in vitro fertilization, said Thierry Voet, another senior author of the study.
More research is needed to determine if the results of the study hold true.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie Borg writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine at worldmag.com based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

4/21/2016 10:33:34 AM by Julie Borg, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

T4G speakers esteem Reformation heritage

April 20 2016 by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS

The legacy of the Protestant Reformation must endure in the doctrine and ministry of the church, speakers said at the 2016 Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference in Louisville, Ky., April 12-14.
Nearly 500 years after Martin Luther ignited the Reformation in 1517, 10,000 attendees from 43 different countries and 20 denominations filled most of the KFC Yum! Center to hear preaching from Christian leaders typically identified with Reformed evangelicalism. More than 4,000 attendees self-identified as members of Southern Baptist churches.
Of the 10 plenary session speakers listed on the T4G website, at least five were Southern Baptists, including Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. and International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt. Other Southern Baptist plenary speakers included Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler and Mark Dever.
Seven Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entities exhibited at the conference: Southern Seminary, IMB, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, LifeWay Christian Resources, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.


Photo by Emil Handke/SBTS
Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. preaches at the 2016 Together for the gospel conference on how the Reformation changed pastoral ministry.


Mohler, co-founder of the T4G conference, said in his plenary address that the Protestant Reformation radically transformed the nature of pastoral ministry, starting with Luther himself. The German monk rejected the selling of indulgences by Johann Tetzel and eventually criticized the priesthood and papacy – key elements of the Roman Catholic Church.
“Justification by faith alone is not one doctrine among others,” Mohler said of Luther’s famous declaration that justification is the doctrine by which the church “stands or falls.”
The five “Solas” – central Reformation principles each beginning in Latin with the word “sola” (alone) – “were not just slogans,” Mohler said. “They were a matter of life and death. Without those Solas, there is no gospel.”
The five Solas, translated into English, are: by scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone and glory to God alone.
Preaching from Colossians 1, Mohler noted that the fundamental issue of the Reformation was the nature of the gospel, and that has not changed in 500 years.
“The key question that drove Luther to his knees,” Mohler said, “... the key issue that led him to flee the altar in what was supposed to be his first mass, the key issue that was behind his nailing of the 95 Theses to the door is this: How are sins forgiven? And Colossians 1 declares these sins are forgiven in Christ.”



Platt preached on the martyrdom of English Reformers, including William Tyndale and John Rogers, who were persecuted for translating the Bible into the common language. They were able to endure death at the burning stake, Platt said, because they knew the greatness of their forgiveness from God.


Photo by Emil Handke/SBTS
More than 10,000 conference attendees gathered in Louisville's KFC Yum! Center for the biennial Together for the gospel conference April 12-14.

“Your perspective of earthly embers changes when you’ve been saved from an eternal inferno,” Platt said.
With thousands of unreached people groups around the world, many of them without a Bible translated into their native language, Platt urged believers to consider what price they are called to pay for the spread of the gospel. Following the example of Tyndale and Rogers, Christians should boldly speak the gospel despite opposition, he said.
“The martyrs didn’t die because they believed this gospel; they died because they were proclaiming this gospel,” Platt said.



Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, and president of the Acts 29 Network, said a healthy awe of God fuels a believer’s endurance through personal trials and public opposition.
“Thin, flat pictures of God will not sustain with the courageous force of a big, deep, beautiful, borderline-frightening, glorious God,” Chandler said. “If you preach Him flat, if you preach Him small, if you preach Him worried ... your people will not be bold.”
Preaching from Romans 11:33-36, Chandler said Christians can have absolute confidence in God’s wisdom and provision.
“Christian courage, inflamed and informed by the glory of God, will be the undoing of every empire but the Kingdom of God,” Chandler said. “Brothers, be fearless to preach the fullness of the character of God.”



Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and president of 9Marks, said pastors are tempted to place too much value upon worldly achievements like large worship attendance. Instead, he challenged attendees to value the slow, lasting joys of pastoral ministry over the fleeting joys of the spotlight.
“Things that may first appear to be the kind of nourishing joys that we need to live on may in fact not be,” Dever said. “In fact, they can deprive us of the discipline we need to find our joys where we should.”



Anyabwile, pastor of Anacostia River Church in Washington, D.C., walked through Romans 3:21-26, noting that the glory of saving grace shines brighter when perceived out of the darkness of the fallen human condition.
“If we can comprehend something of the ugliness of sin, then we can, against that dark backdrop, see something of the beauty of justification,” Anyabwile said.
Because of God’s saving love, Anyabwile said, Christians can have absolute confidence in their final deliverance.
“Before time began, God decided that He would save us, not because of anything we did, but because of what His Son did,” Anyabwile said. “Because His Son did it, it can never be controverted, it can never be subverted, it can never be taken away for those who trust in Christ.”
The conference also featured plenary messages from Ligon Duncan, chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Miss.; C.J. Mahaney, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville; John MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif.; John Piper, founder of Desiring God; and Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich.
Mohler presented a breakout session, “Nowhere to Hide? Facing the Reality of the Secular Movement” and was on a panel with Duncan and MacArthur on the need for seminary education. James M. Hamilton, professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary, spoke at a breakout session about the role of biblical theology in a pastor’s study of scripture.
The 2016 Together for the gospel conference was the sixth iteration of the biennial event, which started in 2006 under the leadership of Mohler, Mahaney, Duncan and Dever. Audio and video from the conference will be available soon at t4g.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Andrew J.W. Smith writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

4/20/2016 11:45:23 AM by Andrew J.W. Smith, SBTS | with 0 comments

Bulldozer death in China draws Tiananmen comparison

April 20 2016 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

The bulldozer death of a Chinese house church member is being likened to the Tiananmen Square protester, still unidentified, who stood in front of a row of tanks during the 1989 uprising.
Ding Cuimei was killed April 14 when she and her husband Li Jiangong stood in front of a bulldozer poised to destroy their home, where they had been hosting a house church in China’s Henan Province.
“Bulldozing and burying alive Ding Cuimei, a peaceful and devout Christian woman, was a cruel, murderous act,” said Bob Fu, president of China Aid, a key advocate for religious rights in China. Cuimei was killed by a two-man government-backed demolition crew, China Aid reported April 18.
Fu, in an interview with Baptist Press (BP), said the incident reflects the ever-escalating persecution of Christians in China, which has been among the U.S. State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” since 1999. North Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia are among other CPCs.
“Last year, according to our own documentation, we have seen a worsening of the persecution against the churches, and in some areas it is the worst since the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s,” Fu told BP in the April 19 interview.
Cumei’s death came on the same day of a hearing on “China’s Pervasive Use of Torture” by the 22-member Congressional-Executive Commission on China in Washington, D.C.
Recounting Cuimei’s death in the central Chinese city of Zhumadian, China Aid reported that the bulldozer “shoved Li and Ding into a pit and covered their bodies with soil. Crying for help, Li was able to dig his way free, but Ding suffocated before she could be rescued.”
The two-man bulldozer crew was being detained while a criminal investigation was being conducted, according to an officer’s statements to a China Aid reporter.
“According to local Christians, the various government departments managing the area did not show up to oversee the demolition” stemming from a local developer’s plans for the property, China Aid reported. “Li himself reported that police took an uncommonly long time to arrive at the scene after a report of the murder was filed.”
Li has been pressured by the local Domestic Protection Security Squad, “trying to silence him, trying to even pressure him to change the story,” Fu told Baptist Press, likening the security organization, also known as “No. 1 Department,” to the former Soviet KGB.
“We need to really pray for this family, for Brother Li, [who experienced] quite a tragic murderous act,” Fu said.
Travis Wussow, director of international justice and religious freedom for Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement to Baptist Press, “We grieve the loss of Ding Cuimei and pray for Li Jiangong and his family during this difficult time. We call upon the global church to pray for those persecuted for their faith, and we urge the Chinese government to protect the religious liberty of all its citizens.”
Nina Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute in Washington, said in a statement to Baptist Press, “This brutal murder of a woman peacefully protesting the destruction of her church is the Christian parallel to the young demonstrator standing against the tank in Tiananmen Square, whose photo became the icon of the Chinese democracy movement.
“This anti-religious atrocity by Chinese authorities warrants the same level of world concern as that political atrocity did 27 years ago,” said Shea, a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern (ICC), another religious freedom advocacy organization, said the death of Ding Cuimei “has added to the storyline of how the Chinese government does not hold life to be precious. Rather than stopping, they decided to literally bulldoze human beings as they stood their ground to protect a house of worship.”
“While it does not hold the same historical weight as Tiananmen Square, it serves as a reminder of Chinese citizens standing in front of mammoth machines to stop what is clearly an injustice,” King said in an ICC news release April 19.
ICC stands with China Aid and other religious freedom allies in calling on the Chinese government “to bring those responsible to justice and to stop its oppressive pursuit of whitewashing Christianity from its shores,” King said.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, online at ccc.gov, heard from four witnesses during its April 14 session, including Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, and two torture survivors, Tibetan Buddhist monk Golog Jigme and Falun Gong practitioner Yin Liping.
The commission’s chairman, Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., said in his opening statement, “We are here today to shine a light on the brutal, illegal, and dehumanizing use of torture in China. ... [T]here are some very dark places in China where torture is used regularly to punish and intimidate political and religious prisoners and their lawyers.
“We are also here to urge the U.S. government to make ending torture a higher priority in bilateral relations and to urge the Chinese government to fully enforce and implement its own laws,” Smith said. “A country with China’s global leadership aspirations should not engage in horrific practices so thoroughly condemned by the international community.”
The spectrum of torture victims in China, Smith noted, encompasses “human rights advocates and lawyers, union activists, members of non-state-controlled Christian churches, Falun Gong practitioners, and members of ethnic minority groups, like the Tibetans and Uyghurs.”
The U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom’s latest report, in 2015 summarizing abuses during 2014, noted that “the Chinese government took steps to consolidate further its authoritarian monopoly of power over all aspects of its citizens’ lives. For religious freedom, this has meant unprecedented violations against Uighur Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Falun Gong practitioners. People of faith continue to face arrests, fines, denials of justice, lengthy prison sentences, and in some cases, the closing or bulldozing of places of worship.”
Fu told Baptist Press, “In Zhejiang Province alone [in southeast China last year], according to our records, over 2,000 churches were either demolished or their crosses, most of them, were forcibly destroyed, and a number of church leaders were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment up to 14 years for voicing their peaceful opposition to the forced demolition campaign [of house churches].”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

4/20/2016 11:41:22 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Is Flint a drop in the water crisis bucket?

April 20 2016 by Evan Wilt, World News Service

Pervasive administrative failures ultimately allowed water laced with lead and other pollutants to gush into thousands of homes in Flint, Mich. The tragedy still prompts more questions than answers as lawmakers blueprint rebuilding America’s crumbling drinking water infrastructure and figure out how federal, state and local governments will work together to pick up the tab.
“Water supports every life, and water supports every job,” said Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday. “At the end of the day, someone will pay for our nationwide neglect of our drinking water systems.”
Flint’s water crisis highlighted a plethora of problems at all levels of government. No one wanted to take credit for poisoning thousands of children as the outcry made national headlines and officials struggled to provide a concerted response.


After more than two years of turmoil and an emergency declaration issued in January, Flint’s water is still not safe to drink. Officials can’t even estimate when it will be. But as catastrophic as Flint’s situation is, the crisis may only be the shallow end of America’s deep water worries.
Flint’s water became contaminated in part from coursing through lead pipes, and many other water systems in the United States are equally susceptible. The U.S. has between 3.3 and 10 million lead pipes in use each day.
Updating the nation’s 68,000 water systems could cost as much as $350 billion over the next 20 years, according to estimates.
“We need to get serious about reinforcing our aging infrastructure, or we will have to hold another hearing in the future to address more preventable tragedies,” Tonko said.
Any amount of lead in a water supply is dangerous, and exposure can cause permanent damage, especially to young children.
“Lead is a potent, irreversible neurotoxin with lifelong, multigenerational impacts,” said Mona Hanna-Attisha, programs director for Michigan’s Hurley Children Hospital. “There is no safe blood level of lead, and there are no medical treatments, there are only mitigating efforts.”
Hanna-Attisha told the House committee politicians need to leave party affiliations on the sideline and create a collective federal response.
“This is nothing short of a natural disaster,” she said. “We need to cut through the gridlock and spur significant action.”
Throughout the crisis, Flint officials blamed state authorities – who then claimed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) abandoned Michigan while it was in dire need of federal assistance.
After the emergency declaration in January, Congress held multiple hearings to determine accountability. Democrats pointed fingers at Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, and Republicans suspected EPA negligence as part of the Obama administration’s overall ineffectiveness.
Snyder testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last month and got grilled by Democrats demanding he resign for his failure to protect Michigan residents. The governor admitted responsibly in part but made it clear he won’t fall on the sword for systemic failures at the federal level.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee’s top Democrat, directed the most anger toward Snyder, and last week he wrote a letter claiming the governor perjured himself during testimony under oath.
Snyder told the committee he was working with local officials in Flint, but the city’s mayor told Cummings after the hearing those claims are false. She said Snyder has ignored her requests to coordinate.
“You claimed you were working with local leaders rather than marginalizing them, and you claimed you were being transparent,” Cummings wrote to Snyder. “[But] it appears that you are perpetuating the same type of heavy-handed, deficient governance that caused this disaster in the first place.”
During Wednesday’s hearing, members of both parties expressed empathy for the tragedy in Flint and said Congress needs to look at existing regulations and increasing investment in water infrastructure.
Several legislators brought up the need for long-term revisions to the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule (LCR), which is supposed to safeguard communities from water containing lead. After lawmakers approved it in 1991, the act has never had significant alterations or updates.
Joel Beauvais, the EPA’s deputy assistant administrator for the Office of Water, told Congress the administration is hard at work on draft revisions to the LCR. But he could not confirm a timetable, saying only that the EPA will finish sometime in 2017.
Under the current LCR, Flint did not violate a single rule during the water crisis, according to one of the witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing.
“I fear there is a picture being painted that everything is under control, but it’s really not,” Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., who represents Flint but does not sit on the investigating committee, told reporters during an intermission. “I’m still waiting for the day Flint’s water is made safe again and also for the day when people feel comfortable. Those two days are not the same.”

4/20/2016 11:36:57 AM by Evan Wilt, World News Service | with 0 comments

She found healing & now directs pregnancy center

April 20 2016 by Chris Doyle, Oklahoma Baptist Messenger

She left that meeting in 1993 discouraged.
Carolyn Anson was told she was not ready to be a volunteer at the Crisis Pregnancy Center (now known as the Hope Pregnancy Center) because she needed healing from her past abortion experience. But, after reading an advertisement in the Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma, Anson would be on her way to not only find healing, but also help other post-abortive women. This eventually led to her new position as the director of Hope Pregnancy Center (HPC) North in Oklahoma City.
Twenty-three years ago, Anson felt God’s calling on her life was to be a volunteer at the Crisis Pregnancy Center. She received the proper referrals through her church, which led to her meeting with the center’s director.


Carolyn Anson poses in front of the Hope Pregnancy Center North office.

“We laughed and cried together,” Anson said, “and at the end of that meeting, she said she would love to have me be a part of Crisis Pregnancy Center, but she felt healing was necessary before I could start. I asked her how do I get the healing. She said she really didn’t know, but she said she would be praying for me that I find the healing I needed.”
Anson went home discouraged and found her copy of the Baptist Messenger in the mail that day.
“I opened it up, and I always check the back page because that was my own church information,” she said. “And most often, I would flip through it to say that I reviewed it. But on this particular day I opened it up, and there it was – ‘Abortion Recovery.’ And that’s exactly what I needed before I could become a volunteer at the Crisis Pregnancy Center.”
Anson responded to the advertisement for an abortion recovery seminar and found out they had room for one more. This was the beginning of the change in her life.
“After I went through my own abortion recovery, it was then in December 1993 that I called the director, and it was a funny experience,” Anson recalled. “She said she had pulled my file and was getting ready to call me to see if I was able to find my healing. I became a volunteer in January 1994.”

Helping others find freedom

In 2000, when Crisis Pregnancy Center changed its name to Hope Pregnancy Center, it also was a change for Anson. She became involved in abortion recovery ministry. She met with women one-on-one, helping them, encouraging them, praying with them as they went through the process of being “forgiven and set free” from the guilt of having an abortion.
Anson went through training of the national curriculum called Facilitating Biblical Healing. She then helped organize HPC’s program “Forgiven and Set Free,” which is now a 12-week course that meets twice a year. When asked how many women she had helped through the years, she said “A LOT.”
She remembers one of her first clients who experienced multiple abortions. Many years later, the client experienced a stroke and died. Anson attended her funeral where her son shared with Anson that his mom had never been happier, knowing she had found forgiveness.
Anson is all too aware of the number of women who struggle post-abortion.
“One of less than four women sitting in our church pews, who are 45 and under, are post-abortive and still afraid to tell their secret to the church,” she said. “They are still afraid that people would look down on them.”


This ad in the Baptist Messenger caught Anson’s eye in 1993 and eventually changed her life.

In 2008, HPC started to offer abortion recovery in group sessions. At first, Anson was cautious with the format.
“I did it one-on-one for years,” she said. “This was a new concept to me, and I didn’t know how groups would work. I wondered how women would be able to sit at a table with other women and share the secret they have carried for many, many years.”
Anson warmed up to the group format and has seen many clients come through the HPC doors, helping them experience the healing she experienced.
“What they discover is (having an abortion) has affected every area of their lives,” she said. “Their motherhood, being a good wife, their entire womanhood has been affected by this. They had no idea it would affect so many areas of their lives and how they carry these burdens in their life and don’t even realize it.
“We talk to them, help them and encourage them to lay these burdens down,” she noted. “We encourage them to take them to the foot of the cross and lay them down and leave them there for good.”

A new adventure

Anson has seen great success as an HPC volunteer, helping women who were facing unwanted pregnancies and those who needed to be forgiven of their past abortions. She had been working in human resource management for many years and could have continued her life content in that field, at least from the world’s perspective. However, God had a different plan for her.
“I could tell God was moving me from my secular job in human resources where I have worked for a very long time,” Carolyn said. “I was very secure in the position that I had. But the reality was God had something different for me.”
In 2012, Anson was approached by a group wanting to open a pregnancy center, near N.W. 23rd St. and Classen Blvd. in Oklahoma City. She accepted the director position for the new center, and at first, it ran successfully. However, circumstances developed that caused the center to close.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” Anson said about this experience. She had left a secure job to embark on what she believed God wanted her to do, but the center closed and left her unemployed.
But Anson wasn’t discouraged. She knew God was working in her life, and He had given her contentment. For a few years, she worked as a personal assistant for a godly woman, who Anson said was a great encouragement for her and would pray with her.
“We had built a wonderful relationship,” Anson said.
Also, she said the pregnancy center near 23rd and Classen has reopened and is operated through a partnering group with HPC.
Then, it finally worked out. In January this year, Anson began her new role at HPC North, and she is excited to see what God will do next.

Hopeful at Hope

Anson, who replaced Gayla White, the new state director for Hope Pregnancy Ministries, has found a new passion at HPC North.
“Because of my intense role in abortion recovery, I wasn’t as familiar with some of the other programs like Empowered Parenting, shop keeping and those kinds of things,” Anson said. “The really neat thing is the Lord has given me a passion for Empowered Parenting classes and other programs. Through that, what I believe the Lord is showing me is the foundation of Hope Pregnancy Center is solid. And I believe, because of this solid foundation, we are going to take these programs to a different level.”
Anson said HPC has plans to do more parenting classes that will be more accessible for both men and women to attend. HPC will continue to offer its fatherhood program and will provide parenting class sessions where mothers and fathers meet separately and will be expanding and modifying to help new parents.
“There are things I am still learning. I want to learn more,” Anson said. “Mostly we are staying focused on making sure everything that is already in place remains as it was, slowly build on that foundation, as the Lord leads us.
“I believe God is going to make a difference because He is equipping me for what He has called me to do,” she said. “I trust that God has put me here for a reason. It will take many men and women to help the many men and women who come to Hope Pregnancy Center.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chris Doyle is associate editor of the Baptist Messenger at baptistmessenger.com, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, where this article first appeared.)

4/20/2016 11:29:32 AM by Chris Doyle, Oklahoma Baptist Messenger | with 0 comments

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