April 2018

‘I Can Only Imagine’ film still strong in 4th week

April 11 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The MercyMe faith biopic “I Can Only Imagine” continues to draw strong audiences nearly a month after its debut, grossing $68.5 million and gaining 1,200 more theater screens.
Featuring the story behind MercyMe’s crossover megahit of the same name, I Can Only Imagine placed sixth at the box office in its fourth weekend April 6-8, earning nearly $8 million and showing in 246 more theaters over the previous weekend, Box Office Mojo reported.

Roadside Attractions’ co-presidents Howard Cohen and Eric d’Arbeloff told Baptist Press (BP) they are thrilled with the movie’s continued success.
“The Erwin Brothers (Jon and Andrew), Kevin Downes and the rest of the filmmaking team did an exceptional job,” the filmmakers said, “and with the support of the cast led by Dennis Quaid, the momentum continues going into week 5.”
The story of faith, redemption and forgiveness based on the life of MercyMe lead singer Bart Millard is “making an impact on hearts and culture,” promoter Provident Films said in advance of the latest weekend.
“We are in awe of how God is using the movie to impact people daily,” Provident Films said April 5. “Each show time in every theater presents an opportunity to share this movie about redemption and forgiveness with people in your world who are longing for hope.”
The biopic placed third at the box office on its opening weekend of March 16-18, earning $17 million on 1,629 screens, picked up 600 additional theaters its second week and is now showing in 2,894 theaters nationwide, Box Office Mojo reported.
Co-directors Jon and Andrew Erwin used a budget of $7 million for the film, casting movie heavyweights Cloris Leachman and Quaid, featuring Broadway success J. Michael Finley as Millard, women’s ministry leader Priscilla Shirer as a key high school teacher who encouraged Millard, and country music star Trace Adkins as a music industry professional.
Former Southern Baptist Convention presidents Ronnie Floyd and Johnny Hunt are among faith leaders endorsing the film at ICanOnlyImagine.com, in addition to Harvest Ministries’ Greg Laurie. Laurie, pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in California and Hawaii, will present a Harvest Festival June 10 in Arlington, Texas, during Crossover evangelistic events in advance of the 2018 SBC Annual Meeting in Dallas.
“I Can Only Imagine is one of the very best films I have ever seen,” Laurie said. “It will move you to tears and the message of it could change your life.”
MovieGuide and the Dove Foundation are among many groups who have favorably reviewed the PG film, which benefits from the popularity of the song that, according to movie presenters Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, is the most-played radio single in Christian music history.
Foreign markets have grossed about $600,000 for the film since March 15 on screens in Australia, New Zealand and Russia, and in Colombia since March 29, Box Office Mojo said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

4/11/2018 10:04:22 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Where have all the organists gone?

April 11 2018 by Karen Allen, The Alabama Baptist

Has playing the organ become a dying art?
What has happened to the organists – the ones who read three staffs of music, dance on the pedals, maneuver multiple manuals, pull organ stops, push pistons, manipulate swell and crescendo pedals and follow a director – all at the same time? Is there no one else to sit on the bench where “Aunt Sally” sat for 40 years?
Eric Mathis, director of The Center for Worship and the Arts at Samford University in Birmingham, said, “There is a national trend for fewer students who major in music with an organ emphasis.”
Samford has had only one incoming freshman majoring in organ each of the past two years. Some piano majors are choosing to complement their degrees with organ in order to diversify their abilities and experiences.
“All musicians, not just organists, must possess broad skills to have a viable career in music,” Mathis said.
Even Jubal, the biblical father of music, diversified by playing more than one instrument: “And his brother’s name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ” (Genesis 4:21).
Educational requirements are demanding for organ majors. Samford offers an organ performance degree as well as a degree in music and worship or music education with an emphasis in organ. Other Alabama universities, including the University of Alabama, Birmingham Southern and the University of Montevallo, offer similar degrees.
But not all organists have degrees in music. Approximately half of the Birmingham American Guild of Organists (AGO) chapter members, including supporters, do not have music degrees.

Organ programs

Schools with nationally reputable organ programs such as Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and Mercer University in Macon, Ga., have seen increases in the number of organ majors. Other, lesser-known university organ music programs have dropped their programs altogether. Dan Lawhon, dean of the Birmingham AGO, admitted we could be “shooting ourselves in the foot” by not having universities give priority to keeping up a high organ profile.
With fewer trained students, the gap to replace organists is widening.
Rural churches have even wider gaps. “Aunt Sally,” who is retiring at 70, 80 and even 90 years of age after decades of service, has no one to replace her from the younger generations.
Most organists in the Birmingham AGO are more than 40 years old, said Lawhon, noting he has detected more difficulty in filling organist vacancies in the past 10 years.
Keith Hibbs, director of the office of worship leadership and church music for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, has experienced the consequences. It has been seven years since the organ in his home church, Dalraida Baptist Church, Montgomery, has been played. Church leaders finally gave up after trying to find an organist and removed the organ when the church was renovated.
Hibbs offered two words for those attempting to fill an organist vacancy: “Good luck!”
To accommodate for organ vacancies, some pianists switch to organ but a pianist is not the same as an organist. The music may be the same but the skills, sounds and techniques are not. For example, the common practice of sustaining is achieved by an organist’s fingers and feet while the piano has a sustain pedal that is pressed.
Lawhon noted that “keyboard studies overall are not as prevalent as in the past.”
This is corroborated by Hibbs who agreed there has been an ongoing pianist shortage for 25 years. Why? One reason is the level of commitment. Another is the cost for years of lessons, in addition to tuition and private lessons for those seeking degrees. Then there is the cost for the instrument itself as well as its maintenance.

Generational instrument

The guitar has become the instrument of this generation. It’s easier to play, faster to learn, requires less commitment and is significantly less expensive to purchase and maintain.
Mathis noted, “The guitar’s portability has increased the variety of worship practices such as worship around a campfire or in home groups.”
Another strong advantage of the guitar is that it is considerably easier to find a replacement guitarist.
Opportunities for organists are diminishing in direct proportion to the prevalence of the traditional service, said Russell Williams, pianist and organist at First United Methodist Church, Trussville.
“Congregations have to get creative to hire organists,” Mathis said, “and organists have to be flexible and open to more responsibilities.”
Organist positions are typically part-time positions with a wide salary range depending on church size and expectations as well as the organist’s experience and education. Many churches are choosing to combine the organist position with another role. It is rare to find a full-time organist position at any church of any denomination.
And not every organist is a good fit for every church. Churches have different needs so they must find the right fit in their organist to meet those needs.
What is the response to this widening gap of organist vacancies?
The AGO encourages mentoring of students within the church and community. Every year the AGO hosts a Pipe Organ Encounter Advanced Workshop for auditioning high school students across the U.S. The AGO routinely hosts other non-auditioned events to instill greater organ interest.
Samford also is taking strides to promote more interest in the organ and recently made one of its five-year goals to “increase appreciation of the role of the organ in worship – whether as the primary instrument or as an instrument in the band.”
Samford also added a new scholarship fund provided from a donor specifically for organ students who have significant interest in the role of the organ in congregational song.
Summarizing the organ and organist dilemma, Mathis said, “People assume that because there are fewer organists and churches with organs in worship that the organ is dying. The organ is not dying, nor are the organists.”

State of change

“Church music is in a constant state of change, and with the addition of praise and worship, the worship life of the congregation has changed. ... Many churches have built new sanctuaries, installed multimillion dollar organs and hired organists, while other congregations across our state have built multipurpose buildings that don’t have organs because they cannot attract and/or afford organists. Both have followed their callings from God,” Mathis said.
“The important thing is that the Word of God continues to be heard in worship and that each congregation has found its calling and its voice musically.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen Allen is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist, news journal of the Alabama Baptist State Convention.)

4/11/2018 10:02:12 AM by Karen Allen, The Alabama Baptist | with 0 comments

Therapy bans, the new battlefield

April 11 2018 by Kiley Crossland, WORLD Digital

In the last few weeks, at least four states have taken action on laws barring therapists from counseling individuals about their sexual orientation or gender identity, other than to encourage homosexuality or transgenderism.
Supporters of the laws argue the bans protect people from ineffective and abusive methods while contending sexual orientation and gender identity are fixed and efforts to change them result in repression and shame.
But critics – both pro-family groups and therapist organizations – say the laws ignore evidence that both sexuality and gender identity often change, violate the confidential relationship between a counselor and client and deny parents and children the treatment of their choice.
In late March, Washington became the 10th state to pass a ban. The new state law labels as “unprofessional conduct” any therapy for minors with unwanted same-sex attraction that involves helping them embrace heterosexuality or any assistance given minors with gender dysphoria to embrace their biological gender. Providers accused of violating the law face fines and license revocation.
Gov. Jay Inslee signed the measure March 28. At the signing ceremony, he claimed, “We are today prohibiting the abuse of our children.”
On April 4, Maryland lawmakers passed a similar bill on to Gov. Larry Hogan, who is expected to sign it.
“It’s not about religious values. It’s about basic human decency,” said Maryland Delegate Meagan Simonaire, who spoke in favor of the ban before the House vote. “It’s about the fact that it’s impossible to fix something that was never broken in the first place.”
But while the evidence of the harms of sexual orientation change efforts is often anecdotal – horror stories of shock therapy or “aversion” therapy, where physical pain is inflicted in association with certain feelings – there is no evidence that a single practitioner today uses those methods, according to Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council.
Sprigg testified against the Maryland bill last month. He said science clearly supports the idea that those who change their sexual orientation and gender identity often change back, especially minors. He cited a study by the nation’s leading expert on homosexuality in teens that found among boys who claimed exclusive same-sex romantic attraction, only 11 percent reported exclusive same-sex attraction one year later.
The National Task Force for Therapy Equality, an alliance of mental health professionals opposed to bans on sexual orientation change efforts, expressed opposition to the Maryland ban. The task force cited research that no less than 75 percent of boys and girls who experience gender dysphoria come to accept their biological sex if they are supported and not pointed toward transition. Banning therapy for minors with gender dysphoria fast-tracks them toward social gender transition, potentially harmful hormone treatments and irreversible surgeries.
For Christians, bans on therapy for those desiring to align their affections with God’s design also infringe on religious liberty. Despite this evidence, more states are considering similar and even more radical bans.
On April 5, the Colorado House of Representatives passed a measure similar to Washington’s and Maryland’s. The bill is now before the Senate. And on April 3, California lawmakers passed the most expansive conversion therapy measure out of an Assembly committee. The law would label as fraudulent any view of sexuality or gender identity – expressed in books, conferences or therapy – at odds with the LGBT agenda.
A growing number of organizations, churches and experts are rallying against the measure. But California has a history of successfully pushing progressive laws. The bill is now before the Assembly Judiciary Committee for a hearing.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD Digital, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)

4/11/2018 9:46:52 AM by Kiley Crossland, WORLD Digital | with 0 comments

Southeastern aiding Cuban convention’s momentum

April 10 2018 by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS

The Cuban church planting movement has been on the move for nearly 30 years as house churches have grown in number and people have come to Christ by the thousands.
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) is joining what God is doing through the Eastern Baptist Convention and its Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Santiago through theological training to equip leaders for ministry.

Miguel Echevarria

SEBTS’s involvement comes at a “very unique period in Cuba’s history,” said Miguel Echevarria, director of Hispanic Leadership Development at SEBTS, an arm of the seminary’s Global Theological Initiatives (GTI).
SEBTS is training 40 professors, convention leaders and lay missionaries (church planters) toward earning master of theological studies (MTS) degrees. In this 48-hour program, students have the opportunity to write and publish a thesis with the goal of having their work available at SEBTS’s campus library.
“We’re training trainers. That’s the whole idea,” said John Ewart, associate vice president of GTI and ministry centers at SEBTS.
SEBTS President Danny Akin, Ewart and Echevarria traveled to Cuba last November. Akin and Ewart welcomed new students to the MTS program and Echevarria taught a course on the Gospels. They also spent time at First and Fourth Baptist Churches in Santiago. In-person training is scheduled a couple times a year while the remainder of the teaching is online. Most of the students currently are teaching at the Cuban seminary, its two extension centers and 34 lay missionary training centers, where many lay missionaries are trained for two years.
SEBTS is the only school currently working with the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, which has 995 students in its bachelor’s and graduate programs as well as its extension centers. The institution offers numerous programs, including a master’s in counseling, bachelor’s degrees and a lay missionary course.
Pastor’s wives also can receive special training through the Janet Hunt Pastor’s Wives Course. Janet Hunt, wife of pastor Johnny Hunt of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., provides a scholarship fund for Cuban women to be trained and equipped for their continued ministry. Charlotte Akin, Wendy Urbanek, Susie Hawkins and Kathy Litton also are among those involved in the training.

Church planting blossoms

Even though Cuba was introduced to Christianity in the late 1800s, it was not until the 1990s that the church planting movement occurred.
While there were and are other evangelicals in Cuba, Baptists were divided into two groups geographically – the Eastern Baptist Convention under American Baptists and the Western Baptist Convention under Southern Baptists by 1898 comity agreements made in a meeting in Washington D.C. From 1886-1989, the Western Baptist Convention worked with the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board); in 1989, and the Home Mission Board passed the responsibility to the SBC Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board). More recently, SEBTS partnered with the Eastern Baptist Convention in 2017, but the two have had an ongoing relationship since 2011.
Kurt Urbanek, author of Cuba’s Great Awakening: Church Planting Movement in Cuba, wrote that Cuban church leaders during the ’90s did not initially realize a church planting movement was taking place, only that Bible study attendance had increased. In 1990, the Eastern Baptist Convention had no house churches but had 132 established churches with a total of 7,254 members. In 2016 those numbers had grown to 622 local churches and 4,830 house churches, and in 2017 the total number of churches, missions and house churches had grown to more than 6,208 (648 churches, 777 missions and 4,783 house churches).
In 2017 alone, the growth among believers was explosive as Eastern Cuban Baptists recorded 43,072 professions of faith. The total number of professions of faith since 1990 was 519,911 within the Eastern convention largely as a result of special evangelistic events. These conversions did not include the further increased number of people coming to faith through house churches, local churches and missions.
“There’s a movement of God going on in Cuba right now. People are coming to faith in droves; churches are being planted in droves,” Echevarria said, comparing it to the Great Awakenings America saw during the 18th and 19th centuries.
“I am impressed with their theology. It’s a reproduction that I want to see happen,” Ewart noted. “If I could take some of the theology that these guys have and put it in some of the other partnerships we have around the world, it would be a strengthening effect.”
Ultimately, the goal of the SEBTS partnership in Cuba is to train up reproducible leaders who can continue to advance the movement of the gospel in recent decades.
“We hope to have an influence in the classroom [so that] they would then take what they are being taught and then teach it to others,” Echevarria said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lauren Pratt is Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s news and information specialist.)

4/10/2018 10:23:28 AM by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS | with 2 comments

Greear, Hemphill rally prayer, civility amid transitions

April 10 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Amid two Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity leadership searches and upcoming national SBC elections, both SBC presidential candidates have issued a joint call for prayer, grace and civility.

J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill

J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill, both tapped as 2018 nominees for SBC president, made the joint appeal as the International Mission Board (IMB) and the SBC Executive Committee (EC) are tasked with finding new entity leaders. In the midst of the entity searches, Southern Baptists will elect national officers at the SBC 2018 Annual Meeting June 12-13 in Dallas.
“After speaking w/my friend @kenhemphill today, we’d like to call all Southern Baptists to act w/civility & integrity toward one another & to join us in praying for the entity transitions ahead & for the upcoming #SBC18 presidential election,” Greear, pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., tweeted April 5.
“In a phone conversation with friend @jdgreear we agreed to invite Southern Baptists to pray for leaders in transition, search committees, that our respective supporters will speak with grace and civility so we can leave Dallas revived, unified and focused on God’s kingdom,” Hemphill, an administrator at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C., followed April 6.
SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., retweeted both messages. The original posts drew more than 1,000 likes and were retweeted hundreds of times.
IMB President David Platt announced Feb. 12 his return to the full-time pastorate, remaining in office while a 16-person search committee seeks a replacement. At the EC, executive vice president D. August (Augie) Boto was named EC interim president April 4 as the EC readies to name a search committee to replace Frank S. Page, who unexpectedly left the EC on March 27. See related story.
“These are difficult times for us all,” Greear told Baptist Press (BP) April 9, “but we must lock arms and boldly go forward to reach our world with the hope of introducing them to our Savior.”
Hemphill also encouraged Southern Baptists to focus on salvations and kingdom building.
“I am concerned that we will get caught up in peripheral issues,” Hemphill told BP, “and miss the critical issues such as baptisms, attendance, unity in diversity, the restoration of key partnerships and the revitalization of our convention.”
In his April 9 email to BP, Hemphill listed the specific prayer requests (paraphrased below) that he and Greear discussed in advance of their tweets:

  • Pray for Page and his family following his resignation from the EC;
  • Pray for Platt and his family as they transition from ministry through the IMB to ministry through the local church;
  • Pray for both search committees as they seek God’s direction for their respective organizations;
  • Pray for the upcoming presidential election in Dallas;
  • Pray that everyone, whether supporting Greear or Hemphill, speaks with grace and civility, discussing issues in a Christian manner;
  • Pray that Southern Baptists will leave Dallas unified and revived.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

4/10/2018 10:20:12 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Jimmy Draper named Executive Committee ambassador

April 10 2018 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Jimmy Draper, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and president emeritus of LifeWay Christian Resources, has been named “EC Ambassador” by D. August Boto, interim president of the SBC Executive Committee (EC).

BP file photo
Jimmy Draper, embracing “EC Ambassador” role April 9, speaks with young leaders prior to the 2005 SBC annual meeting in Nashville.

Draper, who has maintained an active speaking schedule since retiring from LifeWay in 2006, is “someone for whom no introduction or explanation need be given,” Boto said in an April 9 announcement. “He is someone whom involved Southern Baptists all across our nation would immediately recognize and trust.”
EC chairman Stephen Rummage, after an April 4 meeting of the Executive Committee’s officers, stated that Boto, the EC’s executive vice president and general counsel, was being named as interim president and was accorded “the option to appoint an interim EC presidential ambassador during this period of transition to assist him in fulfilling the many representative functions that fall to the office of president.” See related story.
Rummage, in an April 9 statement to Baptist Press (BP), noted, “The officers are very enthusiastic about our interim president’s choice of Dr. Draper as EC ambassador. Mr. Boto has shown wisdom and insight into our Southern Baptist family in making this appointment.”
Boto, in his announcement, stated that Draper’s “experience as an SBC president and as an SBC entity leader will prove invaluable. Especially, I intend to ask him to relate to the Great Commission Council as the Executive Committee’s representative, and I would anticipate that the entity leaders on that body would welcome him in that role.
“Additionally, he will be able to cover speaking assignments at state conventions and elsewhere, already knowing and understanding the constantly changing SBC landscape and areas of challenge. I cannot imagine him not being well-suited for any aspect of service I might ask him to help me with,” Boto said.
Draper was LifeWay’s president from 1991-2006; SBC president from 1982-84 and, earlier, president of the SBC Pastors’ Conference. He led the Dallas/Fort Worth-area First Baptist Church in Euless for 16 of his 35 years in pastoral ministry at eight churches. He is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he later served as trustee chairman and currently is chairman of the board of advisers of seminary supporters.
Under Draper, LifeWay changed its named from the Sunday School Board in 1997; launched its True Love Waits campaign for sexual abstinence until marriage; released the Holman Christian Standard Bible (now Christian Standard Bible); created LifeWay International to broaden distribution of LifeWay products worldwide; and expanded the volunteer program for LifeWay employees to serve in missions efforts around the world.
In the SBC, Draper led a young leaders initiative during the mid-2000s, traveling across the country listening to younger leaders and encouraging their involvement in the convention. He chaired a task force appointed by then-SBC President Bryant Wright of Georgia to weigh changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention; the task force held to the SBC’s name but recommended an additional descriptor, “Great Commission Baptists,” approved by the convention in 2012. And Draper co-chaired the SBC’s Ministry to Homosexuals Task Force which sought to provide proactive and redemptive outreach to individuals struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions.
Draper, in comments to BP, acknowledged that “these are crucial times, but I believe the best is ahead for the Southern Baptist Convention. I have great love for the denomination and still believe God has entrusted to us the best way to reach the world for Christ.
“The Executive Committee has strong leadership,” Draper said. “Things are moving forward.” He noted that Boto is now carrying the responsibilities of interim president as well as EC executive vice president and general counsel, so “any way I can assist him, I would be happy to do.”
Boto described Draper and his wife Carol Ann as “close friends with my family since the 1970s. He shares my deep love for our convention and its cooperative methodology. I am in debt to his model, his training and his counsel for no small part of that love.”
Regarding the process for selecting Draper as EC Ambassador, Boto said, “As soon as it became apparent to me that the Executive Committee’s officers wanted me to act as president in the interim, I requested, and they graciously assented, that I might appoint someone not presently on our staff to assist me in performing normal presidential duties that would potentially overburden my other responsibilities.”
Draper, addressing LifeWay’s trustees in 2004 when he announced his intention to retire in 2006, expressed his conviction that, “As a minister, I will never retire. I cannot retire from ordination, the call to preach or the compulsion of the Holy Spirit to work and witness as a Christian minister.
“The surgeon lays down his scalpel, the attorney shuts his law books, the engineer puts down his calculator and the pilot turns in his wings, but the minister does not retire,” Draper said. “Retirement from that call comes when you wake up and find yourself in the presence of the Lord.”
Draper and his wife of more than 60 years raised three children, James, Bailey and Terri.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

4/10/2018 10:16:24 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Feds shut down Backpage.com over sex ads

April 10 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Opponents of human trafficking have applauded the federal government’s shutdown of Backpage.com, reportedly the leading online facilitator of the sex trade.

Screen capture from backpage.com

An April 6 message at Backpage.com announced the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other government entities had seized the website and its affiliates “as part of an enforcement action.” The FBI and the Justice Department have made no further announcements about the investigation.
The use of the internet now dominates the trafficking of adults and children for sexual purposes, and Backpage.com – a classified advertising company – is regarded as preeminent in facilitating the trade. More than 73 percent of reports by the public to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children concern a Backpage.com ad, the center said in January 2017.
“Backpage is a sex-trafficking storefront masquerading as a website,” Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore told Baptist Press (BP) before using an analogy from a classic movie. “Every time these sites are called to account, they shrug their shoulders as if to say, ‘Who us? We are shocked that there might be gambling going on at Casablanca.’
“Vulnerable women and children are having their lives shredded by predators and those who empower them and who profit from them,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in written comments. “It is time for this society to get serious about the scourge of sex trafficking.”
Polaris – a leading, anti-trafficking organization – called the government action “a major victory and milestone in the fight against sex trafficking.”
“Shutting down the largest online U.S. marketplace for sex trafficking will dramatically reduce the profitability of forcing people into the commercial sex trade, at least in the short term,” said Polaris Chief Executive Officer Bradley Myles in a written statement. “Traffickers will have to rethink their business models and sex buyers will face greater risk. The flow of easy money will slow and, as a result, fewer vulnerable people will be bought and sold against their will.”
Donna Rice Hughes, president of the internet safety organization Enough Is Enough, described it as a “titanic VICTORY” in a written message.
The government’s seizure of Backpage came barely two weeks after Congress completed passage of legislation designed to hold accountable online sites that facilitate sex trafficking. The Senate approved the bill in a 97-2 vote March 21 following the House of Representatives’ adoption of the measure in a 388-25 roll call in late February. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill soon.
If enacted, the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) would amend a 1996 anti-obscenity federal law to authorize the prosecution of websites that support the sale of people in the sex trade. The proposal – which includes provisions from the Senate’s Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) – also would clarify that trafficking victims have the right to bring civil action against such online sites as Backpage.com.
Websites involved in sex trafficking and prostitution quickly took precautionary measures after the Senate vote. The online platform Reddit – known as the “front page” of the internet – barred several sex-worker forums, and Craigslist, Cityvibe and Erotic Review shut down their U.S. prostitution ads, according to reports.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, SESTA’s sponsor, called the seizure of Backpage.com “good news for victims and survivors of online sex trafficking. While this action is long overdue, it is a positive step forward in our efforts to hold accountable sex traffickers that sell women and children online.”
The Women’s March, however, criticized the action against Backpage.com. On Twitter, march leaders called the shutdown “an absolute crisis for sex workers who rely on the site to safely get in touch with clients. Sex workers rights are women’s rights.”
The seizure notice on Backpage.com said those participating in the action included not just the FBI but the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, U.S. attorneys in Arizona and California, and the attorneys general of California and Texas.
In January 2017, a Senate investigative subcommittee chaired by Portman reported Backpage knows its site facilitates prostitution and child sex trafficking. The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs also found Backpage had hidden evidence of criminal acts by editing the ads in its “adult” section and by coaching its customers to post acceptable ads for illegal activities. The panel called for the Justice Department to investigate Backpage.
The subcommittee reported Backpage’s increase in gross revenue from $5.3 million in 2008 to $135 million in 2014 “was attributable to ‘adult’ advertisements.”
Backpage shut down its “adult” section shortly after the Senate subcommittee released its report in 2017, but ads for prostitution and child sex trafficking reportedly were moved to other places on the site, such as its dating section.
In the Southern Baptist Convention’s most recent resolution opposing human trafficking, messengers to the 2013 meeting approved a proposal that included a call for Southern Baptists to support government policies to fight trafficking.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/10/2018 10:09:14 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

China banning online Bible sales ‘absurd’

April 10 2018 by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends

China is purportedly the largest publisher of Bibles in the world, but the communist nation has now apparently blocked online Bible purchases for its residents.
Beginning last week, searches for Bibles at leading online retailers in China came up empty, according to reports from The New York Times and CNN.
The reports indicate certain Bible studies or illustrated storybooks were available through searches. Two merchants told CNN the Bible could be purchased through private messages, but public listings were now “impossible.”
China has historically restricted in-person Bible sales to state-sponsored channels and government-run churches, but online sales presented a loophole of sorts for Christians within the growing underground church movement.
That loophole has now apparently been closed as part of increased religious freedom restrictions – particularly against Christians.
Other religious texts, including those belonging to Islam, Taoism and Buddhism, were still available on JD, Taobao and Amazon – the three largest online retailers in China. But none has the Bible available.
Still, The New York Times reports that Chinese publishers have printed 160 million copies of the Bible and export it to more than 100 countries. About half of those are published in Chinese.
According to the Financial Times, the largest Bible factory in the world is in Nanjing, China, and run by the Amity Foundation, a government-sanctioned Protestant charity.
“In 2012, we celebrated production of the 100 millionth copy,” Qui Zhonghui, president of Amity, told The Telegraph. “It took 20 years to print the first 50 million copies, but the second 50 million took just five years.”
Yet the online ban is part of a troubling trend for Christians in the communist nation, as government pressure appears to be increasing.
William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International, told CNN there is “a broader trend under President Xi Jinping to more tightly control religion, especially Christianity. It’s absurd that the government claims to promote religious freedom at the same time that they’re banning the sale of Bibles.”
The New York Times reports more than 1,500 crosses were removed from churches from 2014 to 2016 in a Chinese province with close ties to Xi. Earlier this year, Chinese authorities reportedly destroyed several church buildings, including one where 50,000 Christians worshiped.
China ranks as the 43rd worst nation for Christians on Open Door’s most recent World Watch List.
Despite increased persecution, Christianity is projected to continue experiencing explosive growth in China.
According to projections from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, by 2020 China will have around 148 million Christians – or as many as Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom combined.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends, factsandtrends.net.)

4/10/2018 10:04:16 AM by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments

Gaines names SBC Committee on Committees

April 9 2018 by BP staff

Appointments to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Committee on Committees have been announced by SBC President Steve Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.
The Committee on Committees has 68 members, two from each of the 34 states and regions qualified for representation on boards of SBC entities.
The Committee on Committees will assemble in Dallas just prior to the SBC’s June 12-13 sessions to nominate members of the Committee on Nominations who, in turn, will nominate trustees for the boards of SBC entities in 2019.
Gaines named Emir Caner, president of Truett McConnell University in Cleveland, Ga., as chairman.
Gaines announced the appointments April 6 in accordance with SBC Bylaw 19, which calls for providing notice to Southern Baptists of the appointees at least 45 days in advance of each year’s annual meeting.
Committee members are:
ALABAMA: Chad Burdette, Macedonia Baptist Church, Ranburne; Tim Cox, Liberty Baptist Church, Chelsea.
ALASKA: Shirley Bearce, CrossCountry Church, Palmer; Steve Kim, Sunset Hills Baptist Church, Anchorage.
ARIZONA: Pete Barker, Royal Palms Baptist Church, Phoenix; James Harms, First Baptist Church, Sierra Vista.
ARKANSAS: Jeff Paxton, First Baptist Church, Dover; Manley Beasley Jr., Hot Springs Baptist Church, Hot Springs.
CALIFORNIA: Raymond Lee, See World Baptist Church, San Diego; Lyman Alexander, St. John Missionary Baptist, Richmond.
COLORADO: Doug Lohrey, First Baptist Church Black Forest, Colorado Springs; Jeff Gibson, Ken Caryl Baptist Church, Littleton.
FLORIDA: Benny Reynolds, Peniel Baptist Church, Palatka; Geoffrey Prows, Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, Baker.
GEORGIA: Emir Caner, First Baptist Church, Helen; Javier Chavez, Amistad Cristiana International, Gainesville.
HAWAII: Jerrell Tate, Abundant Life Christian Fellowship, Ewa Beach; Rick Lazor, OlaNui!, Honolulu
ILLINOIS: Scott Nichols, Crossroads Community Church, Carol Stream; Randy Plunkett, First Baptist Church, Eldorado.
INDIANA: Rick Hillard, Foot of the Cross Church, Bloomington; Randall Forsythe, Grace Baptist Church, Portage.
KANSAS-NEBRASKA: Eric Franklin, CrossPoint Church, Salina, Kan.; Chue Herr, First Hmong Baptist Church, Kansas City, Kan.
KENTUCKY: Samuel Schmidt, Edgewood Baptist Church, Nicholasville; Jerry Huffman, Tates Creek Baptist Church, Richmond.
LOUISIANA: Reggie Bridges, Temple Baptist Church, Ruston; Marc Taylor, Cook Baptist Church, Ruston.
MARYLAND-DELAWARE-DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Joshua Phillips, Pleasant View Baptist Church, Port Deposit, Md.; Kent Phoebus, LifeHouse Church, Middletown, Del.
MICHIGAN: James Jones, First Baptist Church, Trenton; Jerome Taylor, Eastgate Baptist Church, Burton.
MISSISSIPPI: Doug Broome, First Baptist Church, Natchez; Gregory Warnock, First Baptist Church, Brookhaven.
MISSOURI: John Forsythe, Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City; Wesley Hammond, First Baptist Church, Paris.
NEVADA: Harry Watson, Green Valley Baptist Church, Henderson; Frank Bushey, Fellowship Community Church, Reno.
NEW ENGLAND: Richard Clegg, FaithBridge Church, Manchester, N.H.; Gary Rowe, Island Pond Baptist Church, Hampstead, N.H.
NEW MEXICO: Larry Evans, First Baptist Church, Cloudcroft; Manny Montaño, Del Norte Baptist Church, Albuquerque.
NEW YORK: Pete Shults, Cross Point Fellowship, Hurley; David Sera Josef, Grace Christian Fellowship, Middlesex, N.J.
NORTH CAROLINA: Kara Barnette, Faith Baptist Church, Faith; Jeff Dowdy, First Baptist Church, Swannanoa.
NORTHWEST: Nancy Hall, First Baptist Church, Beaverton, Ore.; Garry Benfield, Finley First Baptist Church, Kennewick, Wash.
OHIO: Steve Renfrow, West Side Baptist Church, Hamilton; Steven Brown, Park Heights Baptist Church, Cleveland.
OKLAHOMA: Vern Charette, Trinity Baptist Church, Yukon; Ray Griffin, Quail Springs Baptist Church, Oklahoma City.
PENNSYLVANIA/SOUTH JERSEY: Larry Baker, The Bridge, Shillington, Pa.; Larry Walker, West Hills Baptist Church, Moon Township, Pa.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Mitch Crow, Duncan First Baptist Church, Duncan; Ryan Pack, Riverland Hills Baptist Church, Irmo.
TENNESSEE: Josh Lancaster, Red Bank Baptist Church, Chattanooga; Jessica Mintz, First Baptist Church, Sevierville.
TEXAS: Amy Speight, First Baptist Church, Waskom; Thomas Melton, First Baptist Church, Merkel.
UTAH/IDAHO: Jerry Martin, Restored Community Church, Eagle, Idaho; Mike Palmer, Salmon Valley Baptist Church, Salmon, Idaho.
VIRGINIA: Joey Anthony, Mount Pleasant Church, Colonial Heights; Tony Ghareeb, Arabic New Life Church, Fairfax Station.
WEST VIRGINIA: Todd Hill, Grace Baptist Church, Parkersburg; Chengyu Li, West Virginia Chinese Baptist Church, Huntington.
WYOMING: John Constantine, Story Community Church, Story; Lynn Nikkel, Sunrise Baptist Church, Casper.

4/9/2018 9:39:50 AM by BP staff | with 0 comments

SBC should reflect diverse makeup, MLK50 panelists say

April 9 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptists should build on and apply the historic 1995 resolution on racial reconciliation while always being ready to repudiate racism, panelists said April 4 at a conference commemorating civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his assassination.

The comments came during a breakout session of “MLK50: Gospel Reflections From the Mountaintop,” a two-day event attended by about 3,900 people and co-hosted by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and The Gospel Coalition. The conference at the Memphis Convention Center took place in conjunction with many remembrances of King, who was murdered April 4, 1968, in this Mississippi River city.
In 1995, messengers to the annual Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) meeting approved a statement expressing repentance for the convention’s past racism and asking African Americans for forgiveness. The SBC began in 1845 in a split produced by its support of slaveholding missionaries. And churches in the convention largely opposed the civil rights movement led by King.
Byron Day – president of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) of the SBC and senior pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Laurel, Md. – said the 1995 resolution “was great. It was wonderful. But what are you going to do with it?
“At every level, we need to see the diversity of our convention,” he told the breakout session audience. “And there needs to be accountability.”
Regarding accountability, Day said the reports from the SBC’s entities need to provide more detail on their diversity efforts.
Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, said, “I would love to continue to press past the 1995 resolution.”
The SBC’s committees and boards need to reflect the broad diversity of the convention, including Hispanics and Asians, said Smith, an African American. The diversity should include positions that make budget and hiring decisions, he said.
One of the messages he hears, Day said, is: “It’s time to stop talking and start doing.”
Vance Pitman, senior pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, Nev., told the audience “an apology one time does not in any way undo the tragedy of what was done.”
“Sometimes white Southern Baptists say, ‘Okay, we made our apology. Can we not move past that?’” Pitman said. “It’s a gross misunderstanding of the severity of the issue that took place, and I think for that reason white Southern Baptists should be the kind of Southern Baptists that every time there’s an opportunity to drive a nail into the coffin of racism every white Southern Baptist should be very quick to grab the hammer.
“We should always look for an opportunity to take a stand and to address the issue, because it’s something that is part of the history,” he said, “but by God’s grace our past does not have to define our future. And for that reason, I think there’s great hope.”
Racial unity has repercussions for the mission of the church, speakers said.
“If we’re Great Commission people, we have to constantly ask ourselves, ‘What are the missiological costs of not pursuing Christian unity?’” Smith said.
Pitman said of establishing multi-ethnic churches, “When you begin to penetrate the lostness of your city, what begins to happen is your church begins to reflect your city and community.
“If the average local church does not at a minimum reflect the demographic of the local community around you, you’ve got to ask yourself a serious question about what is missing in the reconciling power of the gospel that you are proclaiming,” said Pitman, whose church has no majority ethnic group and includes people who speak 54 different languages.
Pastors must recognize the power of preaching in fostering racial unity, Smith said.
“Nothing changes in the church in America without the pulpit changing,” Smith told attendees. “The historic black church has always known what the pulpit is – transformatively, discipleship-wise, prophetic-wise. The broader church has to own the weight of what the pulpit is, and it’s more than the place I want to speak, the place I want to speak to keep my job.
“If that pulpit doesn’t speak prophetically for righteousness, it’s just not going to be there.”
The NAAF was founded to encourage black churches within the SBC and to sensitize the convention to the concerns of African Americans, Day said.
Smith said he is asked, “Why do you think it’s worth the effort [to be in the SBC]?
“And I’m always reminding brothers of any economic status, of any ethnic group that it is because missiologically we want to have the tools to be able to affect these areas for the sake of the gospel,” Smith told the audience. “You look for efficiency, effectiveness and breadth, and few things can lay it out like the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention. And what’s funny, my Pentecostal friends understand that, my Presbyterian friends understand that, my Methodist friends understand that. The only people I have to constantly remind about that is us.”
Also speaking on the panel was Jeff Dodge, teaching pastor of Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. Daniel Patterson, the ERLC’s vice president of operations and chief of staff, moderated the panel discussion.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

4/9/2018 9:30:22 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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