April 2018

Intercountry adoptions in U.S. continue decline

April 5 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The State Department’s latest report on intercountry adoptions by Americans showed another significant decline, and adoption advocates say the trend will continue without change in the U.S. government.
 
The March 23 report revealed Americans adopted 4,714 foreign-born children during the 2016-17 fiscal year, a 12 percent decrease from the previous year. The total reflected a 79 percent fall from the all-time high of 22,991 intercountry adoptions in 2004. The latest total is the lowest since 1973, according to the National Council for Adoption (NCFA).
 
The new statistics follow State Department policy changes in February that drew criticism from adoption supporters and predictions that an end to intercountry adoptions by Americans could be in sight.
 
NCFA President Chuck Johnson said the continued decline in intercountry adoptions “is heartbreaking” for Americans seeking to adopt, but “the real tragedy is for the many orphaned and abandoned children in need of the love, protection and care of a family.”
 
“The unfortunate reality is that, while millions of children in need of parents continue to wait, the options for those children to find families are shrinking,” Johnson said in a written statement.
 
Southern Baptist ethicist and adoption advocate Russell Moore said the church would continue to serve orphans despite the challenges.
 
“My hope is that both the slowing of international adoptions and the shutdowns which in many cases led to that slowing will change soon,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “In the meantime, Christians are not ignoring our responsibility to care for orphans, no matter what the difficulties in international adoption. Christians minister to orphans overseas with food, shelter, nurture and efforts to keep families together.
 
“Domestically, Christians are energizing to care for our vulnerable foster care population and other children and families in need,” said Moore, whose five sons include two adopted from a foreign country, in written comments for Baptist Press (BP). “That’s a good sign. Wherever the orphan crisis is, the body of Christ will be there.”
 
State Department policies that have elicited opposition from adoption service providers (ASPs) and adoption advocates include, according to a WORLD Digital article republished March 6 by the Biblical Recorder:

  • New rules and fees instituted Feb. 15 that include a $500 monitoring and oversight charge for adoptive families and a hike in the accreditation cost for ASPs;
  • A new accrediting organization, the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME), that is charged with stricter monitoring and investigations of ASPs out of alleged concern corruption is widespread in intercountry adoption;
  • Proposed regulations from the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) that would be more stringent on intercountry adoption.

 
The OCI proposed the stiffer rules in September 2016, but they were withdrawn last year. Save Adoptions – a coalition of 87 adoption agencies – expects the rules to be submitted again this year and has started a petition to urge President Donald Trump to solve the crisis.
 
“Relations between the Office of Children’s Issues and the adoption community are at an all-time low,” said Johnson, a father by adoption.
 
The State Department intercountry adoption report indicates it has “focused on improving communication with stakeholders, despite the purposeful limitation of stakeholder engagement, and the clear deterioration of their relationship with the adoption community,” he said.
 
The NCFA is urging Congress to pass the Vulnerable Children and Families Act, which it says would enhance efforts on behalf of children “through international diplomacy and U.S. foreign policy” inside the State Department.
 
Rick Morton, vice president for engagement of Lifeline Children’s Services, encouraged Christians not to respond with hysteria, to speak up for orphans and the vulnerable, and to pray.
 
Writing for Lifeline in a piece republished March 29 by the ERLC, Morton – a Southern Baptist and father of three children adopted from other countries – said, “We must resist the urge to ply the tools of politics or personal attack in how we respond to the State Department even when we vehemently disagree with their policies. God wants us to turn to Him when we face opposition or attack. ... Let’s be persistent in both working to see lonely children placed in families through international adoption and to leverage every opportunity, including this one, to show the world Jesus, in all of His glory.”
 
In its report, the State Department attributed the drop of 658 intercountry adoptions largely to changes in China and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). China still far outpaced all other countries in children adopted by Americans at 1,905.
 
The decline in China is based primarily on changes in the country’s laws that have had a negative impact on partnerships between ASPs and certain Chinese provinces designed to aid children with special needs, according to the State Department. Ninety-eight percent of intercountry adoptions from China are of children with special needs, the State Department reported. In addition, an increasing middle class in China has resulted in more domestic adoptions.
 
The Congo no longer provides exit permits to its children who are trying to leave the country with adoptive parents, according to the State Department.
 
Suzanne Lawrence, special advisor for children’s issues at the State Department, said American families “consistently provide homes to 50 percent” of the children who are adopted internationally. “The United States actually receives the most special needs children, the most sibling groups and the most children over age 9, and that’s worldwide,” she told reporters in a March 23 news conference.
 
The most common barrier to intercountry adoption is “we do continue to hear from families who are harmed by illicit and illegal practices in intercountry adoption,” Lawrence said.
 
Johnson contended, however, corruption and abuse are rare, according to WORLD Digital.
 
The State Department’s latest reporting period was October 2016 through September 2017.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

4/5/2018 9:12:13 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



MLK honored on 50th anniversary of death

April 5 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

White evangelicals’ failures regarding racial justice call for repentance, a crowd of nearly 4,000 people heard speakers say April 3 on the first day of a conference to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

Photo by Karen McCutcheon
Longtime civil rights leader John Perkins talks about racial reconciliation during an interview with Russell Moore at the MLK50 conference April 3 in Memphis.


The first two speakers at “MLK50: Gospel Reflections From the Mountaintop” – a white Southern Baptist leader and an African-American pastor – both pointed to the church’s widespread failure to turn away from its past and present to abide by the teachings of Jesus and His gospel. The two-day event, co-hosted by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and The Gospel Coalition (TGC), is taking place at the Memphis Convention Center half a century after King’s slaying April 4, 1968, in the same city.
 
The conference – held in conjunction with many remembrances of King in Memphis – is designed not only to honor the life and ministry of the leader of America’s civil rights movement but to consider the state of racial justice and how to achieve unity amid the country’s ongoing division. Conference participants were to be able to participate April 4 with the people of Memphis, former U.S. presidents and others to remember King during a ceremony at the Lorraine Motel, where he was shot to death.
 
Conference hosts announced the establishment of a program in King’s memory that will enable minority students from Memphis to receive full and partial scholarships to 15 Christian colleges, universities and seminaries. Nearly $1.5 million already has been raised for the fund.
 
In the conference’s first keynote address, ERLC President Russell Moore said King “preached to a beloved community, but he was not a beloved preacher in an awful lot of communities.”
 
Now, King “is relatively noncontroversial in American life, because Martin Luther King has not been speaking for 50 years,” Moore told the audience consisting of 3,890 registrants April 3. “It is easy to look backward and say, ‘If I had been here, I would have listened to Dr. King, even though I have not listened to what is happening around me in my own community.’”
 
King is long dead, “but Jesus Christ is not dead,” Moore said in remarks based on Matthew 23:29-39.
 
“[T]ime and time again in the white American Bible belt, the people of God had to choose between Jesus Christ and Jim Crow because you cannot serve both,” he said, “and tragically many often chose to serve Jim Crow and to rename him Jesus Christ.”
 
In a world of racial injustice, hatred and bigotry, “the answer is not to rebrand but to repent,” Moore told the diverse audience.
 
He questioned why the evangelical church is so white and middle class. Jesus will build His church, he said, adding the question is whether it will happen with evangelicals.
 
“God does not need an American evangelical movement,” Moore said. “God does not need a Southern Baptist Convention. God does not need a Presbyterian Church in America. God does not need a Gospel Coalition. All of these things are good and right so far as they remind us of the purposes of God. But even if they do not, God will still build His church.”
 
Charlie Dates, senior pastor of Progressive Baptist Church in Chicago, followed Moore by saying “the sting of evangelicalism’s compliance with segregation is still felt” 50 years after King’s death in its seminaries, radio stations, podcasts, publishers and churches.
 
“By choosing to conform to the world, Christians have created a segregated church,” Dates said. While exceptions exist, “today’s segregated brand of American evangelicalism is largely unrepentant of the sin of segregation,” he told the audience.
 
“This segregated brand of evangelicalism seems unready and unwilling to file divorce papers with white privilege and systemic injustice,” Dates said. “[African Americans] can sense evangelicalism’s unwillingness to tear away from the perks of segregation and slowness to prepare future leaders for a unified church.”
 
What has frustrated African Americans about white evangelicals who have a clear understanding of orthodoxy and the gospel, Dates proposed, is: “We have expected you to be our greatest allies in the struggle against injustice. We wanted you to tell your churches and your congregations that God was never pleased with segregation and the systems that segregation has created. We have wanted you to use your influence with your governors and your politicians to end the long night of systemic injustices.”
 
In an ongoing series of examples that brought increasing cheers, Dates said, “We wanted you all to unflinchingly denounce the politics of fear and the alt-right racism that elected playboys while denouncing a black man who was loyal to his wife all his years in office and took care of his kids and did not disgrace America.
 
“[B]ut instead of finding allies in the fight for justice on the grounds of righteousness, we have encountered antagonists,” he told the crowd. “Instead of understanding our plight, we have been met with demands to justify our sentiments.”
 
Black and white evangelicals don’t have to agree, but they must love one another, Dates said. “Lovelessness is godlessness.”
 
John Perkins, longtime civil rights leader in Mississippi and founder of the Christian Community Development Association, told attendees Christians “have created gaping holes” in the gospel but it is the only hope.
 
“[W]e are at a place of good news,” he told Moore in an interview. “We can’t play the game of dehumanization any more.
 
“We’ve got to go back to the gospel. Reconciliation is the outcome of the gospel.
 
“We’re in trouble people, and the solution is the church,” Perkins said.
 
Mika Edmondson, pastor of New City Fellowship in Grand Rapids, Mich., offered two takeaways from King’s suffering and teaching on suffering.
 
“Take social suffering seriously enough to get involved,” he told attendees. “Take hope seriously enough to stay involved.”
 
“The love and the justice and the righteousness of God will be the last thing standing in the end,” Edmondson said. “Hatred, injustice, oppression got out to a fast start. They seemed so overwhelming. It seemed like victory was assured. But then came Jesus.”
 
He urged the audience, “You should stay involved, beloved, because we know we are running in a winning race, because 2,000 years ago in a borrowed tomb in Jerusalem truth crushed to the earth rose again.”
 
The MLK50 Dream Forward Scholarship Initiative announced April 4 will enable minority students in Memphis who show a love for Christ and the ability to achieve academic excellence to have access to a range of financial aid.
 
The 15 schools involved in the effort include several Southern Baptist Convention seminaries and state Baptist colleges.
 
“We believe there are multiple reasons for Christian colleges and seminaries to participate in this program and we are grateful to these schools who have so generously joined this effort,” said Brent Leatherwood, the ERLC’s director of strategic partnerships, in a written statement. “This initiative reflects that good work being done [by Memphis church leaders and activists] and offers a way to come alongside and support it.”
 
In a panel discussion featuring five Memphis pastors, Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines explained the change that came in his life and ministry after he became Bellevue Baptist Church’s senior pastor. God showed him and the church the need to love Memphis.
 
“I believe that God doesn’t just call a pastor to a church. He calls a pastor to a city,” Gaines said. “I think that repentance is not only something you say. It’s something you show. It’s not just words, but it’s work.”
 
On the same panel, Ed Stephens of Golden Gate Cathedral in Memphis said black and white pastors need to develop genuine relationships in the cause of racial unity. “You cannot stay with your same race and expect your city to change,” he said.
 
The first day of the conference also featured brief talks, spoken word presentations and other panels.
 
Gov. Bill Haslam welcomed attendees to Tennessee and Memphis at the start of the conference.
 
Leading music at the conference were the worship team of Fellowship Memphis and the Tennessee Mass Choir.
 
King, only 39 at the time of his death, led the civil rights movement from his time as pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., in the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. In Memphis to advocate for sanitation workers on strike, King gave what became known as his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech the night before he was killed.
 
A simulcast and archived videos of the event may be viewed at mlk50conference.com/live.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

4/5/2018 9:06:15 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Solace amid persecution for India’s Christian minority

April 5 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Christians comprising just 2.3 percent of India’s population noted two legal successes this Easter as religious persecution mounts under the Hindu nation’s ruling Indian People’s Party (BJP).
 
In Meghalaya, one of three Indian states where Christians comprise a population majority, the BJP-ruled government responded to widespread public protests and withdrew an order March 27 to halt Good Friday observances, Christian persecution watchdog World Watch Monitor reported March 29.
 
“We are happy that the government officials acted promptly and reversed the controversial order,” P.B.M. Basaiawmoit, a Presbyterian and former vice-president of the National Council of India, told World Watch. The ordeal was reminiscent of Good Friday 2017, when the federal government tried to cloud the Christian holiday by launching Digital India Day. That year, only after protests did the government exempt from the launch Meghalaya and the nation’s two other Christian majority states of Nagaland and Mizoram, World Watch said.
 
In a second glimmer of hope this Easter, the Supreme Court of India released prominent Christian leader Amit Kumar Soren from prison March 27 as he awaits trial on false charges stemming from his Christianity, the United Christian Forum for Human Rights (UCFHR) reported March 29.
 
Soren’s release comes as violence continues against Christians that number 63.97 million in the nation of 1.34 billion people, Open Doors said in its 2018 World Watch List that ranks India 11th among the 50 countries worldwide where persecution against Christians is most severe. Open Doors moved India up from a ranking of 15 it garnered in the 2017 list.
 
Soren was falsely accused of inciting hate.
 
“Professor Soren’s case just shows how absurd the allegations against Christians have become,” Alliance Defending Freedom India (ADF India) representative Tehmina Arora told UCFHR. “The only thing he did was to organize a public gathering and stand up for religious freedom in India. He now faces up to three years in prison.”
 
Among other acts of persecution against Indian Christians in March:

  • A mob of 20 Hindu extremists claiming “false conversions” interrupted a Baptism service March 28 at an Evangelical Churches of India congregation in Uttar Pradesh state, violently assaulting the pastor and two church members, World Watch reported March 29.
  • In Andhra Pradesh state, police prevented a Christian family from filing a complaint against a man whom witnesses said killed a 65-year-old Christian woman March 21. Instead, police protected the accused man, describing him as “mental,” and threatened to prevent the family from performing the last rites for at least 10 days if the family complained, World Watch reported.
  • Armed with two bulldozers and weapons, a mob of 100 led by a parliamentary staff member bulldozed the Catholic Pushpa Mission Hospital March 12 in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh state, claiming the mob had a court order. Police only registered a crime had been committed after two days of complaints by church officials, World Watch said.
  • A mob of 50 Hindu extremists, accompanied by a police officer, raided five churches in Tamil Nadu state March 11; stripped, beat and sexually assaulted several women, and made profane death threats, pastors told World Watch. In one of the attacks, the extremists repeatedly kicked the wife of pastor Ravi Jacob in the face until she was unconscious, and stripped her of her sari and Bible while trying to force the couple to convert to Hinduism, Morning Star News reported.

 
“She was kicked in the face with shoes,” Jacob told Morning Star. “I tried hard but couldn’t protect her. She fell unconscious. She was lying there unconscious without her sari.”
 
While India’s constitution provides religious freedom, it is implemented under anti-conversion laws dating to the 1930s that Hindu nationalists have said are needed to protect “vulnerable Hindus in the lowest castes” from being converted to Christianity and Islam, according to a 2018 white paper from ADF India. The laws have stymied Christian witness while easing conversions to Hinduism, ADF India said.
 
“Nevertheless, the laws serve to chill the free exercise of religion as radicals view them as a license to attack and persecute people from minority religions,” ADF India said in its findings. “One estimate is that ‘more than 75 percent of the acts of violence against Christians, averaging now about 1,000 a year, are under the guise of stopping fraudulent conversions in villages.’ People do not explore other religions or convert for fear of reprisals. The recent increase in arrests also suggests that enforcement.”
 
While few Christians have been prosecuted under the laws, ADF said a rise in arrests “may result in increased prosecutions and convictions.”
 
According to Open Doors, persecution against Christians involves violence 86 percent of the time, and is felt in their church, national, community, family and private lives.
 
“The government continues to look away when religious minorities are attacked,” Open Doors said in its 2018 Watch Watch List, “indicating violence may only increase.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

4/5/2018 8:59:01 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



$1.5M raised for MLK50 scholarship initiative

April 4 2018 by BR staff

Leaders of the “MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop” event announced today that nearly $1.5 million has been raised for the “MLK50 Dream Forward Scholarship Initiative,” that will allow Christian colleges and seminaries to invest in the education of minority students.
 

ERLC photo by Rocket Republic
Brent Leatherwood, director of strategic partnerships for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, announced at the MLK50 Conference a $1.5 million scholarship initiative for minority students from Memphis at participating Christian colleges and universities. 

The central focus of the initiative will be a number of full and partial scholarships at participating Christian colleges and universities across the country for minority students from Memphis.
 
“We believe there are multiple reasons for Christian colleges and seminaries to participate in this program and we are grateful to these schools who have so generously joined this effort,” Brent Leatherwood, director of strategic partnerships for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said in a press release.
 
“The city of Memphis was the scene of a brutal murder of the leading figure of the Civil Rights Movement. Unfortunately, even to this day, shockwaves from that terrible moment still reverberate in the community. But pastors, church leaders, and local activists are resolved to make racial unity a reality. This initiative reflects that good work being done and offers a way to come alongside and support it.”
 
A broad range of financial aid resources will be given to selected minority students from Memphis who demonstrate a heart for Christ and a potential for academic excellence while meeting basic admission requirements.
 
Participating colleges and universities include the following.:

  • Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.

  • The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.

  • Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo.

  • Wheaton College, Wheaton, Ill.

  • Dallas Baptist University, Dallas, Texas

  • University of Mobile, Mobile, Ala.

  • Bethlehem College and Seminary, Minneapolis, Minn.

  • Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee, Okla.

  • Union University, Jackson, Tenn.

  • Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill.

  • North Greenville University, Tigerville, S.C.

  • Gateway Seminary, Ontario, Calif.

  • New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, New Orleans, La.

  • Blue Mountain College, Blue Mountain, Miss.

  • Shorter University, Rome, Ga.

  • Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, Ark.

  • Missouri Baptist University, St. Louis, Mo.

  • Hannibal-Lagrange University, Hannibal, Mo.

  • Gordon College, Wenham, Mass.

  • Boyce College, Louisville, Ky.

More information about the initiative will be available at mlk50conference.com after the event’s conclusion.
 
The MLK50 conference, taking place April 3-4 in Memphis, Tenn., is co-hosted by the ERLC and The Gospel Coalition.

(EDITOR'S NOTE – Compiled from ERLC press release.)

4/4/2018 10:59:13 AM by BR staff | with 0 comments



National CP 4.90% ahead of mid-year projection

April 4 2018 by BP staff

Year-to-date contributions to Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries received by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee are 4.90 percent above the year-to-date SBC Cooperative Program (CP) Allocation Budget projection, and 2.40 percent above contributions received during the same time frame last year, according to a news release from D. August Boto, executive vice president of the SBC Executive Committee.


The year-to-date total represents money received by the Executive Committee by the close of the last business day of March and includes receipts from state conventions, churches and individuals for distribution according to the 2017-18 SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.
 
The $100,706,826.63 received by the Executive Committee for the first six months of the fiscal year, Oct. 1 through March 31, for distribution through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget represents 104.90 percent of the $96,000,000.00 year-to-date budgeted projection to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America. The total is $2,358,588.29 or 2.40 percent more than the $98,348,238.34 received through the end of March 2017.
 
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ channel of giving through which a local church can contribute to the ministries of its state convention and to the missions and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention with a single contribution to its state convention.
 
The convention-adopted CP allocation budget is distributed 50.41 percent to international missions through the International Mission Board (IMB), 22.79 percent to North American missions through the North American Mission Board, 22.16 percent to theological education through the SBC’s six seminaries, 2.99 percent to the Executive Committee and SBC operating budget, and 1.65 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. GuideStone Financial Resources and LifeWay Christian Resources are self-sustaining and do not receive CP funding.
 
According to the budget adopted by the SBC at its June 2017 annual meeting in Phoenix, if the convention exceeds its annual budget goal of $192 million, IMB’s share will go to 53.4 percent of any overage in Cooperative Program Allocation Budget receipts. Other ministry entities of the SBC will receive their adopted percentage amounts and the Executive Committee and SBC operating budget’s portion will be reduced to 0.00 percent of any overage.
 
Designated giving of $117,855,951.19 for the same year-to-date period is 2.41 percent or $2,774,159.15 above the $115,081,792.04 received at this point last year. This total includes only those gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities. Designated contributions include the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief and other special gifts.
 
March’s CP allocation receipts for SBC work totaled $15,434,514.61. Designated gifts received last month amounted to $28,893,566.19.
 
State conventions retain a portion of church contributions to the Cooperative Program to support work in their respective states and forward a percentage to Southern Baptist national and international causes. The percentage of distribution from the states is at the discretion of the messengers of each state convention through the adoption of the state convention’s annual budget.
 
Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the number of Sundays in a given month, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions, the percentage of CP contributions forwarded to the SBC by the state conventions after shared ministry expenses are deducted and the timing of when the state conventions forward the national portion of Cooperative Program contributions to the Executive Committee.

CP allocation budget receipts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly to the executives of the entities of the convention, to the state convention offices, to the state Baptist papers and are posted online at cpmissions.net/CPReports.
 

4/4/2018 9:12:57 AM by BP staff | with 0 comments



Online worship training, certification now available to NC Baptists

April 4 2018 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

Worship leaders looking to renew their church’s worship can now earn a certificate in worship leadership and receive college credit at Fruitland Baptist Bible College as part of a new online hybrid class being offered through the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) worship and music ministry.


Worship Leader Boot Camp: Beyond Extreme is one of two new online courses developed by Kenny Lamm, BSC senior consultant for worship and music.
 
The 12-week “Beyond Extreme” course will cover biblical foundations of worship and practical aspects of planning and preparing worship services. Class enrollees will work through the course material through online teaching videos, resources and discussion forums with a high level of interaction with the instructor and fellow classmates.
 
Once per week, the entire class will meet with the instructor though a live video conference to discuss the material. Participants will also complete a final project during the final two weeks of the course.
 
The first “Beyond Extreme” course is scheduled for this spring, beginning May 21 and concluding Aug. 13. Cost is $139 per person.
 
A limited number of openings are available for the course, and enrollment is limited to N.C. Baptists until one week before the course begins.
 
Students who successfully complete the “Beyond Extreme” class can receive credit toward any degree at Fruitland Baptist Bible College and receive a Basic Certificate in Worship Leadership through Fruitland.
 
“Many worship leaders who have been unable to attend one of our live worship training events have expressed a desire to receive similar equipping and encouragement in an online format,” Lamm said. “We are grateful to be able to meet that need and offer the same content and instruction from our popular Worship Leader Boot Camps to more people with even more depth than a live event allows.
 
“Additionally, we are also thankful for the administration at Fruitland Baptist Bible College who have recognized the value of this training and made it possible for students to receive both college credit and certification upon successful completion of this course.”
 
A self-paced online version of Worship Leader Boot Camp is also available. The course includes 29 videos featuring 6.5 hours of instruction that individuals can work through at their own pace. Cost of Worship Leader Boot Camp Online is $30, and individuals may start at any time. Discounts are available for N.C. Baptist churches. No instructor interaction, certification or college credit is available with the self-paced online class.
 
With the two new online Worship Leader Boot Camp offerings individuals now have five different varieties of training from which to choose.
 
Lamm offers three options for his live, in-person trainings.
 
Worship Leader Boot Camp Basic is a one-day conference held on a Saturday that is open to anyone on a church’s worship team.
 
Worship Leader Boot Camp Plus covers the material from the basic training and incorporates a full band to lead extended times of corporate worship. Worship Leader Boot Camp Plus begins on a Friday evening and concludes on Saturday afternoon. The added worship times provide opportunities for personal renewal and refreshment, Lamm said.
 
Worship Leader Boot Camp Extreme is the third option for live, in-person training. Boot Camp Extreme covers the core material and adds elements of additional material that addresses the day to day work of a worship leader. Boot Camp Extreme is held at Caraway Conference Center and begins at lunchtime on Thursday and concludes Saturday afternoon.
 
“Our goal is to provide as many training opportunities for pastors and worship leaders as possible in a variety of formats,” Lamm said.

All in-person and online trainings are scheduled to be held at different times throughout the remainder of 2018. For more information, including dates and pricing of the live trainings and additional details about the new online courses, visit WorshipLeaderBootCamp.org.
 

4/4/2018 9:02:26 AM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Christian colonel suspended for marriage view wins appeal

April 4 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A U.S. Air Force colonel and devout Christian suspended and denied promotion after refusing to affirm same-sex marriage has won a legal appeal to reverse the disciplinary actions against him.
 
Col. Leland Bohannon was restored April 3 to his military position and good standing, the Air Force Review Boards Agency announced Monday. Before Bohannon was disciplined in August 2017 for refusing to sign a certificate of spouse appreciation for a retiring officer in a same-sex marriage, Bohannon was due a promotion to brigadier general.

Leland Bohannon


“The Director concluded that Colonel Bohannon had the right to exercise his sincerely held religious beliefs and did not unlawfully discriminate when he declined to sign the certificate of appreciation for the same sex spouse of an Airman in his command,” Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson wrote in an April 2 letter announcing the ruling. “The Air Force will ensure Col. Bohannon’s records are corrected in accordance with the final agency decision.”
 
Religious liberty advocates First Liberty Institute, Bohannon’s legal counsel in his appeal, applauded the decision.
 
“We are very pleased that Secretary Wilson protected the religious liberty of Col. Bohannon,” First Liberty General Counsel Hiram Sasser said in a press release today.
 
“Forcing Col. Bohannon to sign a spouse certificate when his religious beliefs prohibit him from doing so violates federal law and DOD [Department of Defense] regulations,” First Liberty said in its Oct. 5, 2017 appeal on Bohannon’s behalf. “Refusing to grant Col. Bohannon’s request for religious accommodation violates DOD and Air Force regulations. Worse, the adverse actions Col. Bohannon has suffered as a result of free exercise violate the Constitution, federal law and established DOD policy.”
 
Instead of affirming same-sex marriage, Bohannon had arranged instead for the certificate, which was an optional and unofficial document, to be signed by a superior officer. The Air Force review board cited the provision in ruling in Bohannon’s favor.
 
“The Air Force has a duty to treat people fairly and without discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin or sexual orientation,” Wilson wrote, “and met that duty by having a more senior officer sign the certificate.”
 
The Air Force “places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all,” Wilson wrote.
 
When Bohannon refused to sign the certificate, the retiring homosexual officer objected and filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which ruled in the retiring officer’s favor.
 
In November 2017, several Congress members signed letters to Wilson supporting Bohannon’s appeal, including Southern Baptist senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Ted Cruz of Texas, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Roger Wicker of Mississippi. Missouri representative and Evangelical Christian Vicky Hartzler also signed a letter of support.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

4/4/2018 9:00:53 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Pope’s alleged hell denial scrutinized

April 4 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Pope Francis’ reported denial that hell exists – which the Vatican says is not “a faithful transcription” of his words – has occasioned analyses of both Roman Catholic and biblical teachings on hell.
 
“Even if Francis did indeed deny the existence of hell or affirm some form of annihilationism, his comments to a journalist are his personal words and do not constitute Roman Catholic doctrine or change it from its official formulation,” said Gregg Allison, a The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and author of Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment.
 
In a front-page article March 29, the Italian newspaper La Republica quoted Francis as saying “there is no hell,” according to the Boston Herald’s translation. Sinful souls “are not punished. Those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate Him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear.”
 
The Vatican released a statement the following day which claimed the pope spoke with Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari “in a private meeting” and that Scalfari, described in media reports as an atheist, was not granted an interview.
 
“What is reported by the author in today’s article is the fruit of [Scalfari’s] reconstruction, in which the precise words uttered by the Pope are not cited,” the Vatican said. “No quotations in the aforementioned article, then, should be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.”
 
Scalfari agreed with the Vatican’s statement, explaining to The New York Times he didn’t take notes during his conversation with Francis and that “I can also make mistakes.” Scalfari reiterated, however, that he recalled the pope saying hell does not exist.
 
Scalfari has met with Francis multiple times and similarly wrote in 2017, “Pope Francis has abolished the places where souls were supposed to go after death: hell, purgatory, heaven. The idea he holds is that souls dominated by evil and unrepentant cease to exist, while those that have been redeemed from evil will be taken up into beatitude, contemplating God,” according to the Herald’s translation.
 
Allison told Baptist Press (BP) official Catholic teaching affirms hell “as one of two eternal destinies – the other being heaven.” Purgatory – where Catholics believe some souls experience a measure of punishment before they can enter heaven – is “a temporal destiny” according to Catholic teaching, “not an eternal destiny,” he said in written comments.
 
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, hell is the “state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed.” People consigned to hell are those who “die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love” by their own free choice. “Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, whereby they suffer the punishment of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God.”
 
A “mortal sin,” Allison explained, “is any heinous sin – a severe violation of one or more of the Ten Commandments and thus a sin against God or/and another person(s) – that is done with premeditation and with full consent, without any reference whatsoever to the Supreme Good, who is God Himself.”
 
Regardless of what Francis stated about hell, Allison said, some aspects of official Catholic Church teaching on hell do not seem to match scripture.
 
“As evangelicals, we reject the distinction between mortal sins and venial sins and thus maintain that any person who sins, whether heinously or otherwise ... is guilty before God and is liable to suffer punishment in hell. Also, the notion of hell as the ‘state of definitive self-exclusion from God’ seems to overlook the important and biblically-warranted fact that it is God who metes out both eternal life in heaven and eternal punishment in hell,” Allison said, quoting his book on Catholic theology.
 
“Finally, the contemporary (since Vatican Council II) Roman Catholic embrace of inclusivism results in the Church’s hope that many Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, atheists and the like will be saved even though they have never heard and believed the good news of Jesus Christ,” Allison said. “While affirming that Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection are the only ground of salvation, Roman Catholic inclusivism denies that people have to embrace the gospel in order to be saved. Rather, by following the tenets of their religion or obeying the dictates of their conscience, they may experience the grace of God for salvation. Evangelicals embrace exclusivism rather than inclusivism.”
 
Exclusivism is the belief that explicit faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior is necessary for salvation.
 
Ben Skaug, a California pastor who has written a forthcoming book on hell, said Jesus and “every single New Testament author” addressed hell. Christ “is the world’s foremost expert on hell because He created it, upholds it (Hebrews 1:3) and is sovereign over it,” Skaug told BP in written comments.
 
“Jesus believes that hell exists,” said Skaug, a pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif. “The apostles believe that hell exists. The Bible is clear that both heaven and hell exist. In fact, both entities not only exist but will continue to exist in the new creation. Revelation 21:1-8 shows us that the new heavens and the new earth contain both the new Jerusalem as well as the lake of fire, or hell. To deny the existence of hell is to deny one of the basic beliefs of Christianity.”
 
Hell, Skaug said, “exists no matter how badly some don’t want it to. Hell is the place where God will pour out His divine wrath on the wicked for eternity. It is painful, punishment (punitive not corrective), suffering, banishment from the Kingdom blessings of God and eternal.
 
“When the church starts to remember the realities of hell as they are seen from scripture, then our evangelism will be more fervent and with a greater sense of urgency. The denial of hell, of course, leads to the opposite,” Skaug said.
 
The Baptist Faith and Message’s article on “last things” states, “Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

4/4/2018 8:57:11 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Executive Committee to hold called meeting

April 3 2018 by Baptist Press staff

Executive Committee (EC) Chairman Stephen Rummage has called a special meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee for Tuesday, April 17, at the SBC Building in Nashville.
 
“As you know, concerns and questions abound in regard to the sudden and grievous departure of our EC president,” Rummage said in the letter to all 83 members of the Executive Committee regarding the March 27 retirement of EC President Frank S. Page. Three of the 86 positions are currently vacant.

BP file photo
Stephen Rummage


In compliance with EC bylaws notice requirements, notice to EC members of the April 17 meeting was sent via email on March 29, with paper copies sent by first class mail to each member that afternoon.
 
During the special meeting, Rummage as EC chairman will provide on behalf of the officers a report of activities related to Page’s unexpected departure, in which Page acknowledged “a personal failure” in retiring from active ministry. The EC also will have opportunity to discuss administrative and interim leadership matters relative to Page’s departure and elect a presidential search team for the first time under an EC bylaw adopted in 2012 that spells out a new process for selecting a presidential search committee.
 
Under normal procedure in the absence of a president, the EC’s executive vice president, D. August Boto, has the responsibility for day-to-day operations of the EC staff. In the event the president leaves office, the EC bylaws empower the officers to designate, pending action by the full board, an interim president from among the vice presidents.
 
The Executive Committee will elect six members of a search committee by written ballot among nominees from the floor during the special meeting. The board chair also serves as an ex-officio member with the right to vote, constituting a seven-member presidential search committee.
 
The called EC meeting will not include workgroup or committee meetings, nor will there be any spouse activities, Rummage stated in the letter to EC members.
 
The chairman announced that the agenda is not yet complete, so it is possible other matters may be discussed.
 
The officers have been in regular communication since these events unfolded and plan to meet together this week, according to Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations.
 
In written comments, Oldham also said: “As previously reported, Dr. Page announced his imminent retirement on Monday evening, March 26, to the officers, and made clear on Tuesday morning that his retirement would be immediate. Chairman Rummage and Dr. Page had a conversation on Tuesday in which Dr. Page was forthcoming about a matter Dr. Page considered to be disqualifying from further leadership with the Executive Committee. Based on that conversation, the officers have no reason to suspect any legal impropriety. The Executive Committee will exercise due diligence to determine if anything has occurred that would require further action.”
 
Rummage, pastor of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla., concluded the notice to EC members of the called meeting by writing, “Last, let me make a request that should go without saying. Let’s all be in constant prayer, not only for Dr. Page and his family and for their (and our) present challenges, but also for our individual walks and the protection of our families.”
 
Page led the Executive Committee for almost eight years, previously serving as vice president of evangelization for the North American Mission Board in 2009-2010 and nine years as pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. He was the 2006-2008 president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Art Toalston, senior editor of Baptist Press.)
 

4/3/2018 12:14:39 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 2 comments



Tar Heel Baptist Church: ‘A story of hope’

April 3 2018 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

Drive through the town of Tar Heel in southeastern North Carolina on a Sunday morning and chances are there will be about as many people worshiping inside Tar Heel Baptist Church than the population of the town itself.

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Each Sunday School class at Tar Heel Baptist Church adopted a local organization – school, nursing home, law enforcement, firefighters, first responders, substance abuse treatment centers, etc. – to serve.


Tar Heel Baptist Church isn’t a megachurch. It’s not even a church in a growing community.
 
But thanks to a renewed focus on loving God and loving others, the Lord is moving in the church and in the community, where the population was just 117 people according to the 2010 census.
 
“If God can move at Tar Heel, He can move anywhere,” said Devon Varnam, who has served as senior pastor of Tar Heel Baptist Church since March 2015.
 
Prior to Varnam’s arrival, Tar Heel Baptist was like many churches in the United States – in a state of plateau or decline. According to various studies statistics, as a great majority of churches across all denominations can be classified as plateaued or declining, and many close their doors each year.
 
One characteristic of many churches that are plateaued or declining is that they have become more inward focused than outward focused. Varnam says that was true of Tar Heel Baptist when he arrived.
 
When he began his tenure as senior pastor, Varnam says his focus was simply on preaching the Word, following God and encouraging his congregation to do the same. As Varnam and his congregation connected and got to know one another, a vision to reach the community and surrounding area in Bladen County was birthed.
 
Over time, Tar Heel Baptist Church shifted its focus from inside its four walls to others around them by sharing the love of Christ with neighbors, friends and others. Part of that focus involved Varnam and church leaders shifting Tar Heel Baptist’s ministries to focus on the community. 
 
“Tar Heel Baptist wants to make much of Jesus in the community by loving God and loving our neighbors,” Varnam said.
 
Every Sunday School class adopted a local organization to serve, which included local schools, nursing homes, law enforcement, firefighters, first responders, substance abuse treatment centers and more.

Sunday School class members serve their respective organizations in a variety of ways on a consistent basis, and the church engages in weekend service initiatives in the community periodically throughout the year.

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“Tar Heel Baptist wants to make much of Jesus in the community by loving God and loving our neighbors,” said Devon Varnam, senior pastor of the church. That includes trying to reach children and families in their community.


As a result of those local missions efforts, more members are engaging in missions beyond the community. In the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, the church sent volunteers to Florida and Puerto Rico to share the love of Christ by assisting with in the recovery and cleanup efforts.
 
By reaching out into the community, more people are coming to know Christ and growing as disciples. Varnam says average worship attendance on Sunday mornings has grown from about 80 to about 116. Sunday School attendance has increased from about 60 on a typical Sunday morning to about 100.
 
Plus, the church is attracting younger individuals and families from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Varnam says the fastest growing demographic in the church is 20-to-30 year olds. Tar Heel Baptist has gone from a church with an average age of 65, to one where the average age is now approximately 40.
 
From September 2017 to January 2018, the church has baptized 16 people.
 
Varnam says many church members have caught the vision of reaching and discipling others in the community and surrounding area.
 
In an effort to be a consistent presence in the community, Varnam said one young man has started a men’s Bible study at a local restaurant where men come together weekly to fellowship, read God’s Word and pray. A young woman recently began a women’s mentoring ministry called “Woman 2 Woman” based on Titus 2.
 
A senior adult man also started a monthly prayer breakfast where men from different churches and walks of life come together to pray, seek the Lord and encourage one another.
 
When asked to describe the impact of what’s happened at Tar Heel Baptist, one word comes to Varnam’s mind – hope.
 
“The story of Tar Heel Baptist Church is a story of hope,” Varnam says, “Hope that God can take a church in a small town that was on the verge of dying and restore it to be a light in the community.
 
“To God be the glory.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Visit ncbaptist.org/revitalize to learn more about the Church Health and Revitalization ministry of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)
 

4/3/2018 12:14:25 PM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments



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