August 2013

U.S. asked to fight Nigeria’s child bride law

August 19 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

LAGOS, Nigeria – Christians in the U.S. should support Nigerian believers with prayer and financial gifts to counter the Nigerian government’s refusal to outlaw child marriage in the African country, a Southern Baptist expert on Nigerian relations said.

The Nigerian government’s refusal to set the legal marriage age at 18 will allow preteen Christian girls to be bought as the brides of Muslim men, automatically forcing them to convert to Islam, Adeniyi Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist working from Raleigh, N.C., to evangelize and serve Nigerians in his homeland, told Baptist Press.

“We need the church to raise an altar on our [behalf], to go to God in prayer for our country Nigeria, to bring about a quick review of this law because [with] this law in place, the future is bleak for our daughters of 12 years, not to mention the one that is just 5 years old,” said Ojutiku, who organized the grassroots group Lift Up Now, with an estimated 2,000 supporters in Nigeria.

“The church can also raise support financially, because this kind of war can be easily fought when you can organize more protest [rallies], workshops and talks to create more awareness, for the people to rise and speak out for their lives,” Ojutiku said.

The Nigerian Senate in July failed to pass an amendment to Nigeria’s constitution that would have removed a clause that confers adulthood or “full age” upon “any woman who is married.” The longstanding clause came to light when the legislative body voted on an amendment setting guidelines for Nigerians who wish to renounce their citizenship.

Senators’ refusal to change the clause created an outcry among many, including Christians, non-governmental organizations, women leaders, academia, the media, entertainers and Western-educated Muslims who oppose the law for varying reasons, according to news reports from many outlets. Some editorialists termed Nigeria a “nation of pedophiles.”

Christians oppose the law because it will serve as a form of Sharia law and will lead to medical complications and even early deaths of girls forced prematurely into sex and childbirth, Ojutiku said. Child brides also will acquire the right to vote, most likely for the Muslim candidates their husbands support, Ojutiku told Baptist Press.

“It will further give a boost to Sharia law and negatively affect Christians,” Ojutiku said, “especially women in the far North where Muslims are in the majority because adoption of women (Christian) and their forceful conversion to Islam is presently going on.”

Ironically, senators were strongly discouraged from changing the clause by Sen. Ahmed Yerima, who in 2010 divorced one of his four wives, a 17-year-old he married when she was 15, to replace her with a 14-year-old for whom he paid $100,000, the Institute on Religion and Democracy reported. Yerima described opposition to the law as against Islam, which allows men to have four wives concurrently.

Continued violence

The outcry comes at the same time Islamic extremists are intensifying violence against Christians.

Islamist extremist group Boko Haram is the main suspect in the July 29 bombing of two churches and nearby Christian businesses in Kano city, killing at least 45 people in the heavily Christian area, Morning Star News reported. Four bombs were detonated within a 30 minute period around 9 p.m., Morning Star wrote.

After one explosion during a service at Christ Salvation Pentecostal Church, 39 bodies were recovered in the area, Morning Star News reported. Another bomb exploded at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church as Christians were meeting there. A third bomb apparently targeting Peniel Baptist Church did not affect the structure, Morning Star said.

Nigerian pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, briefed a U.S. Congressional group and the National Press Club in Washington in July regarding the child bride law, speculating it could affect girls as young as 3, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) reported.

“Where are the heroes who marched for little girls killed in Selma, Ala.,” and “the new Dr. Kings?” Oritsejafor asked legislators, according to the IRD. “We must rise as one and say no, never again.”

Ojutiku said child marriage will hinder efforts to spread the gospel and will further enslave women.

“This law is having a religious inclination, all of which is against the Christendom and to strengthen the Islamization of our country,” Ojutiku said. “They used to say that this country is Muslim country but [it] is not.

“This law it will take us back more than 300 years,” Ojutiku said. “That is big trouble for the church today.”

Child marriage is already prevalent in Nigeria, studies show. In northern Nigeria, 45 percent of girls are married by age 15 and 75 percent by age 18, according to a 2005 Population Council Child Marriage Briefing on Nigeria. U.N. figures show that in northern Nigeria’s Kebbi state, the average marriage age for girls is 11, the IRD reported.

A petition to have the law reversed gained 100,000 signatures and, according to the petition’s author, was being delivered to the United Nations.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
8/19/2013 1:04:18 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Baptist church in Egypt targeted & burned

August 16 2013 by Charles Braddix, Baptist Press

CAIRO – Numerous churches across Egypt were attacked Aug. 14 by mobs angered at the military’s deadly crackdown on protesters in Cairo. 

Beni Mazar Baptist Church in Minya, located 150 miles south of Cairo, was among churches targeted. It was attacked and burned. No casualties or injuries were reported.

Violence in Minya, however, left 41 people dead, including six policemen.

At noon on Aug. 14, Mounir Sobhy Yacoub Malaty, pastor of First Baptist Church in Cairo and a leader of Egypt’s Baptist convention, posted on his personal Facebook page, “Pray: Baptist Church in Beni Mazar, Minya, has been attacked.”

IMB file photo
An Egyptian flag, left, flies with flags from other Arab countries in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, Egypt. Tension has escalated as hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to express their opposing political opinions.

He quickly followed with an update, “Beni Mazar Baptist Church on fire.”

Later that day, Malaty posted a brief video showing the ransacked and burning remains of the church.

Before It’s News website listed 17 churches that were targeted, attacked, looted and burned Aug. 14.

The Aug. 14 violence, leaving more than 500 dead and 3,500 injured nationwide, began when government troops moved to clear thousands of supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi who were occupying two sit-in camps in Cairo. 

Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, was removed from power on July 3 after serving only one year in office. 

Clashes later spread throughout Cairo, then across the country. The government has declared a month-long state of emergency, imposing a nighttime curfew in nearly half the country’s provinces.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Charles Braddix is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Europe.)
8/16/2013 12:06:50 PM by Charles Braddix, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Commission: End prohibition on church political speech

August 16 2013 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Preachers should be free from IRS scrutiny even when speaking about political candidates, a 14-member commission has recommended in a report released Aug. 14.

The commission, created by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) at the request of Sen. Charles Grassley, R.-Iowa, proposed a number of tax-related recommendations to Congress and the Treasury Department in its 60-page report.

The Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations stated that its members and 66 others who served on three panels created by the commission had “much accord” that “a member of the clergy should be permitted to say whatever he or she believes is appropriate in the context of a religious worship service without fear of government reprisal, even when such communications include content related to political candidates.”

The commission added that “comparable latitude should exist for secular nonprofit organizations.”

The “communications” noted by the commission should be within “the ordinary course of a 501(c)(3) organization’s regular and customary religious, charitable, educational, scientific, or other [tax-]exempt-purpose activities ... so long as such communications do not involve the disbursement of tax-deductible funds.”

Expenditure of tax-exempt donations by religious and other 501(c)(3) organizations for political campaign activities “would likely have a deleterious impact on the effectiveness and credibility of the nonprofit sector,” the commission stated, noting “broad agreement” by its members and those on its panels.

Grassley was briefed July 11 on the upcoming report, a spokesperson for his office told Baptist Press Aug. 14, and the senator is “weighing next steps.”

William Townes Jr., the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee’s vice president for convention finance, is among the commission’s 14 members, along with Richard Hammar, a tax expert who prepares a yearly tax guide for GuideStone Financial Resources of the SBC. The commission is chaired by Michael Batts, a CPA who is a former chairman of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). Stephen Douglass, president of Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), is among others on the commission.

The commission’s Panel of Religious Sector Representatives includes among its 25 members Sherre Stephens, a former GuideStone director of executive services; Mike Buster, executive pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church; Danny de Armas, senior associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Orlando; and Simeon May, chief executive officer of the National Association of Church Business Administration and a member of First Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas.

Derek Gaubatz, general counsel for the SBC’s International Mission Board, is on the commission’s 14-member Panel of Legal Experts, along with Mathew D. Staver, dean of Liberty University’s law school and founder of Liberty Counsel, and David Gibbs Jr., founder and president of the Christian Law Association.

It is “both disturbing and chilling,” Batts, the commission’s chairman, noted in a three-page introduction to the report, “that the federal government regulates the speech of religious organizations and other organizations dedicated to improving the lives of people.” The prohibition against nonprofits’ support or opposition to political candidates is “the only law of its type on the books ... that allows the Internal Revenue Service to evaluate the content of a sermon delivered by a member of the clergy,” Batts wrote, and “the only law that could cause a church to lose its federal tax exemption based on the words spoken by its leaders in a worship service.”

Federal officials “know instinctively that the law, as currently interpreted and applied, is problematic – which is why the law is largely unenforced in some respects and inconsistently enforced in others,” Batt wrote.

The practical effect of the law’s vagueness, he noted, “is to chill free speech – often in the context of exercising religion.”

“Many 501(c)(3) organizations engage regularly in communications that the IRS says are prohibited, and there are no consequences,” Batts wrote. “Yet, the IRS does enforce the law on occasion, in a variety of ways, giving rise to understandable claims of selective or inconsistent application of the law.”

Russell D. Moore, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in comments to Baptist Press about the commission’s report, said, “While I don’t think a church normally should endorse candidates for office from the pulpit, that’s only because I believe the mission of the church ought to stand prophetically distant from political horsetrading.

“That’s a matter of gospel prudence, though, not a matter of legal right and wrong,” Moore said. “A congregation should decide when to speak and what to say. Such decisions shouldn’t be dictated by bureaucrats at the IRS or anywhere else. The commission is right that the chilling of the speech of churches is easily abused by politicians. That’s why I support the freedom of speech for churches and pastors, even when they say more or less than what I would say from the pulpit.”

The ban on tax-exempt organizations’ political involvement was adopted as an amendment to the Revenue Act of 1954 by then-Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, who became vice president under President John F. Kennedy and assumed the presidency upon Kennedy’s assassination.

“Without discussion or debate, the so-called ‘Johnson Amendment’ was quickly passed on a voice vote,” the commission recounted in a two-page history section of its report. “... [T]here is no express public policy purpose in the dearth of legislative history surrounding the 1954 Johnson Amendment.”

The Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations was created in early 2011 and, in its first report, addressed concerns raised by Sen. Grassley about financial accountability in the religious and broader nonprofit sector. Grassley’s initial accountability concerns involved the financial records of six television ministries, most of which had ties to what is known as the “health and wealth gospel” and had come under scrutiny for using donor money to live luxurious lifestyles.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.)
8/16/2013 12:04:56 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Children – more than numbers to these Christian workers

August 16 2013 by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press

ASIA – To most of the world, 13-year-old Nitya Singh* is simply one of the world’s 1 billion children who live in urban centers, according to UNICEF data.

To Helen McKinney*, however, Nitya is more than a statistic in a world in which nearly 600 million children live in poverty.

Nitya is a child worthy of God’s love.

Three years ago, Nitya and her mother Parul* came to McKinney’s home to get clean water from an outside faucet. Nitya had not yet met the foreign woman who only recently had moved in.

Within a few days, McKinney, with a few cookies, ventured out to meet the mother and her daughter.

“They laughed at my attempt to communicate,” McKinney recalls, but her simple gesture marked the beginning of a friendship.

Photo by Tess Rivers
Myrtle Oscar* helps kids cut out decorations for the craft activity at the weekly Kids’ Club she and a co-worker hosts. *Name changed.

Soon Nitya brought her friends to meet “Auntie,” the kind woman who gave her cookies but couldn’t speak her language. As the friendship grew, the group of children moved from the gate to the porch and into the living room. They helped McKinney learn their language, and McKinney taught them simple English.

“The children came every day, sometimes twice a day, for a cookie and prayer,” McKinney says. “Through a Bible story book and lots of great pictures, I started teaching them about Jesus.”

As McKinney came to know the children, she began to visit the families who lived in the squalid slums near her home. Slowly, she met some needs that families could not, such as taking a child to a doctor or dentist or buying a family a bag of rice.

But McKinney’s visits brought more than food or even friendship. They brought hope – the hope found only in Jesus Christ.

“The families welcomed me into their little huts, and I became ‘family,’” McKinney says. “Many of the children came to know Jesus as their Savior.”

Today, between 30 and 50 children come to McKinney’s weekly class, where she gives them food, medicine and love, and about 10 children visit each morning before school for breakfast and prayer. On Sunday mornings, McKinney goes to church in an SUV packed with children.

Throughout Asia, Christian workers like McKinney are sharing God’s love with children from all walks of life, from the desperately poor to the outrageously affluent. Mary Bennett* is another example of someone who sees past the numbers.

Bennett works with 30 of the world’s 163 million orphans. The 30 children live in a children’s home that Bennett describes as lacking adult supervision and nurture in Southeast Asia.

Concerned by the lack of care for the children and seeking a way to show God’s love, Bennett brings four children at a time into her home each week to sing, pray and hear Bible stories. She also searches for Christian families from churches in her city to “spiritually adopt” the children by praying for them daily, taking them to Sunday School and inviting them into their homes.

“If we don’t have an intentional strategy for reaching children, the next generation will be even that much harder to reach,” Bennett says.

Once deterred by criticism that “you can’t start churches with children,” Bennett now encourages other Christian workers to consider how they can reach children in their circles of influence.

Referencing a survey of believers from Islamic backgrounds, Bennett continues, “All of them could remember hearing something about Jesus as a child. I believe that those who hear [about Christ] as children are much more likely to follow Him when they become adults.”

Myrtle Oscar* agrees. A Christian worker in Thailand, the 60-year-old grandmother hosts a weekly kids club for nearly 20 children in her neighborhood. The middle-class children spend an hour and a half playing games, learning English and hearing Bible stories.

Knowing that some parents in her Buddhist culture might object to the overt teaching of Christianity, Oscar is upfront about teaching from the Bible.

“One mother told us her daughter could not come if we told Bible stories,” Oscar recalls. “Later, the mother came back and listened at the gate. Now her daughter comes every week.”

For McKinney, parental response also is positive. As children in her predominantly Hindu culture share Bible stories at home, parents come to McKinney’s home to hear the stories themselves. Some are now followers of Jesus, and the gospel has transformed a number of families.

“Most of the women had husbands who drank and beat them,” McKinney says, remembering mothers who came crying to her home late at night with their children. “We prayed for them, bandaged their wounds, shared some tea and loved them. Now all the fathers have quit drinking!”

It’s important for believers to look beyond statistics to see the children like Nitya who need to learn about God. Based on their experiences, McKinney, Bennett and Oscar believe that kindness to children fosters opportunities for relationships with parents.

“If you are doing good to someone’s child, you will make an impression on the parent,” Oscar says. “It’s a really bad parent who doesn’t appreciate those who take an interest in their kids.”

*Names changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Rivers is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Southeast Asia.)
Related story
Kids learn about Asia via ‘The Caravan’
8/16/2013 11:57:32 AM by Tess Rivers, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Kids learn about Asia via ‘The Caravan’

August 16 2013 by Baptist Press

INDIA – Bryson Holtson* started drawing cartoons when he was 10 years old. Now as an adult, he works as a graphic designer in India. Several years ago, Holtson and his creative team recognized the need to educate children about life in Asia. After several brainstorming sessions, the group created a boy named Zeke, a monkey named Googly, a tiger named Raj, an elephant named Hati, a camel named Sindhi, a mongoose named Jatra and a few others.

Together, these characters make up “The Caravan.”

Zeke and his Caravan friends have fun learning about Jesus and about people in Asia. The stories and activities teach kids about culture, religion and everyday life in countries like India, China, Korea, Thailand and Indonesia as well as encourage kids to become involved in missions right where they live.

Bryson Holtson* uses computer graphics to give life to the characters in the stories and activities of “The Caravan” that teach kids about Jesus and the people of Asia. *Name changed.

“We believe that children can serve Jesus right where they are,” Holston, a father of three, says. “With the Caravan, we wanted to find a fun way to connect children in the U.S. with mission work in Asia because those who learn about international missions as kids are more likely to be interested as adults.”

Holston’s favorite Caravan character is Googly, the monkey.

“I like Googly because he’s fun. He likes to explore, and he asks a lot of questions,” Holston says.

Holston works with a team of people on The Caravan cartoons, including writers, graphic designers and animators. Tess Rivers*, one of the writers, began writing stories and poems for fun at age 8. Now, Rivers lives in Thailand and writes stories about the Caravan’s adventures.

“Jatra and the Good Shepherd” is Rivers’ favorite Caravan story. In it, Jatra the mongoose explains the Bible story about the lost sheep to a shepherd in Pakistan who lost one of his goats.

“I like writing stories that point kids to Jesus and help them get to know Him,” Rivers says. Even so, she notes, “Jesus was the best storyteller.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the Asia communications staff of the International Mission Board. Access The Caravan.)
Related story
Children – more than numbers to these Christian workers
8/16/2013 11:50:38 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bans on abortion by telemedicine growing

August 16 2013 by Kimberly Railey, USA Today/Religion News Service

The war over abortion is going digital.
Missouri last month joined six other states that have enacted bans on abortion by telemedicine this year. That’s a process in which women take pregnancy-ending medication that a doctor remotely administers during a video conference.
The practice, available to women in their first nine weeks of pregnancy, is now prohibited in 11 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
In Iowa – where telemedicine abortions were pioneered – the Board of Medicine voted in June to effectively shut the practice down, and state legislators have declined to intervene in the dispute. A public hearing before the board is set for Aug. 28.
“Telemedicine is spreading across the country in chronic disease and mental health care, but abortion’s the only way we’re seeing it restricted,” said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute. “Whenever there’s an advancement in health care, an abortion restriction is never far behind.”
The Guttmacher Institute and other supporters of abortion rights say it is safe and legal, and it expands abortion access in rural areas where no doctors offer them. Critics such as the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue counter that the system is plagued by a lack of oversight and can be dangerous for women if they suffer any side effects such as excessive bleeding, nausea or vomiting.
In the telemedicine abortion method, a patient is examined by a nurse at a clinic and then participates in a video conference for several minutes with a physician working in a different office. The doctor gives the drug using a computer that remotely opens a drawer in front of the woman, who takes the first dose while the doctor observes.
Two additional pills are taken at home, where her pregnancy is aborted. A follow-up visit is scheduled within two weeks.
“Pills are being distributed like Tic Tacs,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue. “Nobody would accept medical treatment like that for any other procedure.”
Between 2000 and 2011, 1.52 million U.S. women have used medication abortion, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000, according to the FDA. In rare cases, these abortions have been linked to sometimes-fatal infections, but the FDA has not determined that the drug definitively caused those deaths.
In Iowa, the practice did not increase the state’s abortion rate and improved abortion access for women living in rural areas, according to a study released in November by the American Journal of Public Health. The findings also included a slight decline in the number of abortions being performed during the second trimester of pregnancy.
The decrease reflects a decline in abortions nationwide, Newman said. The rate of abortions nationwide dropped between 2000 and 2008, the most recent Census data show.

Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said outlawing telemedicine abortions would burden women by forcing them to seek doctors in unfamiliar areas.
“If she is not able to obtain the care she needs in her own community, then she has to leave her community, her support system and her hometown,” June said.
Since the Iowa program launched in 2008, more than 3,000 women there have opted for a telemedicine abortion, according to Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which provides family planning services and offers telemedicine abortions.
Women may have to undergo a surgical abortion if they cannot travel to a provider within the first nine weeks of their pregnancy, June said.
So far, no ban has targeted the wider use of telemedicine, which allows medical providers to remotely share images and videos using wireless or video technology.
The Georgia Composite Medical Board proposed a rule last year that would require an exam by a physician, either in person or electronically, before a patient could receive any telemedicine care. But the effort stalled amid concerns that it would limit access to medical treatment.
Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, said remote consultations are currently not threatened because state lawmakers have targeted only abortion procedures.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kimberly Railey writes for USA Today.)
8/16/2013 11:42:21 AM by Kimberly Railey, USA Today/Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Macedonia Project speeds missionaries to field

August 16 2013 by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – You’ve recently finished college – or maybe you’re a mid-career professional – and you sense an urgent call to follow Christ into long-term mission service.

You have the practical skills to make an impact. You have the motivation. You’re ready to respond to the Lord’s call in obedience – right now, as the Apostle Paul responded when he dreamed of the man pleading, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). But you need the theological training required for career missionary appointment.

The Macedonia Project might be the express lane to missions you’re looking for. It’s a new category of missionary service being developed by the International Mission Board (IMB) in conjunction with Southern Baptist seminaries.

The three- to four-year mission assignment, to be offered under the International Service Corps umbrella, will allow apprentice missionaries to live and serve overseas while pursuing theological education online with one of the participating seminaries.

At the end of the field term, Macedonia Project missionaries will return to the United States and complete the remainder of their academic curriculum within a year, earning a master of arts degree while continuing to receive a financial stipend. After successfully completing the program, they will be eligible to apply for appointment as full-fledged career missionaries.

“They will be able to press excellent theological training through the grid of practical field experience while at the same time pressing their practical field experience through the grid of their theological training,” IMB President Tom Elliff said.

“Those who qualify can complete a graduate degree, apprentice training and language study. The Macedonia Project will add to the ranks of our personnel who are viewed as some of the most passionate and skilled on the globe when it comes to effective missiological practices,” Elliff said.

The approach will enable new missionaries to gain real-world experience while building the biblical foundation needed to undergird them for the long term.

They will learn theology and missiology “in the laboratory of the field experience – essentially without delaying theological education in order to gain field experience, nor delaying field experience in order to get theological education,” according to the program’s introductory statement.

IMB personnel and several Southern Baptist seminaries are talking together about how to design the program while specific field assignments are developed.

The projected time frame calls for candidates to be recruited through the rest of 2013 and early next year. Qualified applicants will be invited to a special Macedonia Project Expo next summer for screening and job matching, with as many as 40 to be recommended for ISC appointment and orientation by the fall of 2014.

The IMB is seeking two types of candidates for the program:
  1. People just out of college with a long-term mission calling who want to jumpstart their training and get to the field as soon as possible.
  2. Well-equipped people already in the professional arena who have valuable skills to offer in mission service, but who need seminary training.
The first group comprises “millennials who are moving from college into the professional world and really aren’t of the mindset to separate their theological education from their practical experience,” said an IMB strategist helping design the program.

“The other group is professionals who feel called to long-term missions. They maybe have professional expertise in teaching or dentistry or medicine or nursing and they want to come with IMB,” he said.

IMB file photo
A young missionary, right, shares the gospel with a man in Latin America. A new International Mission Board missionary program, the Macedonia Project, aims to help others called to long-term mission service get to the field sooner while obtaining the theological education they need.

“They’ve got experience. They’ve got a professional degree. The only thing they lack is theological education. They can come via Macedonia and get the education while at the same time getting oriented to missions.”

But the Macedonia Project won’t be for everyone.

“It’s going to be hard,” he said. “We’re going to give them field training, language training and theological education at the same time. So the bar is going to be high. We’re going to assess you very carefully to see if you have the capacity.

“Second, we’re going to match people to the right role, the right job. But what we hope to do is design the degree programs where for the first two years they’re focusing on biblical studies, which will underscore their own walk with the Lord, their own personal discipleship.”

Participants will work to complete one seminary course per semester, or two per year, while they’re on the field. The most academically challenging courses likely will come at the end of the program, when they return to complete degree work on seminary campuses.

Cooperating seminaries will be asked to provide Macedonia Project missionaries a discount in regular tuition for online classes. IMB also will provide study funds to help offset tuition costs.

And the programs won’t be identical at each school. One seminary might offer a unique angle on a program that would be attractive to a particular student. Program designers are looking to have a variety of programs a student could choose from to further enrich the type of experience that student receives.

As the program is being developed, potential candidates can seek more information by calling IMB Initial Contacts at (888) 422-6461 or emailing Apply for the program through IMB’s International Service Corps application process at Indicate specific interest in the Macedonia Project.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. For information about the Macedonia Project program already in place at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, click here.)
8/16/2013 11:34:59 AM by Erich Bridges, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

47 SBC pastors call massive prayer meeting

August 15 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

SOUTHLAKE, Texas – A group of 47 Southern Baptist pastors is inviting senior pastors to participate in A Call to Pray for Revival and Awakening Sept. 30-Oct. 1 in Southlake, Texas.

Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, announced the 24-hour event Aug. 14.

“On behalf of our invitation team, I am inviting you to join us in a prayer gathering of senior pastors from all sizes of churches across America, for one purpose: praying together for revival and awakening!” Floyd said in a written statement. “We will focus on praying for pastors, local churches and our nation to experience a mighty move of God that will be a catalyst for revival and awakening.”

The team of pastors has committed to attend the event in its entirety, Floyd said.

“This is not a ‘come and go’ event or a place to ‘come and be seen,’“ Floyd said, “nor is it a denominational or political meeting. It is a serious spiritual experience of prayer with pastors nationally. Due to our commonality of need, we are focusing on Southern Baptist pastors.”

Those not attending the event should pray nonetheless, Floyd said.

“Pray for us in that 24-hour period of time,” Floyd wrote in a letter to Baptist convention state executives. “We are in [a] desperate time. All of us want to see our pastors, churches and nation experience a mighty move of God.”

Floyd encourages pastors to register as early as possible due to a limited number of available rooms at the Hilton Dallas/Southlake Town Square, the site of the event. To reserve a hotel room, call the hotel at (800) 445-8667 to receive the group rate. A $75 stipend is available to offset hotel cost, financed by a special gift from a supporter, whose name was not announced.

Registration is free by contacting Cross Church at (479) 751-4523 or

Joining Floyd on the invitation team are, in alphabetical order (N.C. pastors are in bold text): senior pastors John Avant, First Baptist Church Concord in Knoxville, Tenn.; Bart Barber, First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas; Kie Bowman, Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin, Texas; Mac Brunson, First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.; Matt Carter, Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas; Michael Catt, Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.; Frank Cox, North Metro Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Ga.; Bill Elliff, The Summit Church in North Little Rock, Ark.; Ernest Easley, Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.; Grant Ethridge, Liberty Baptist Church in Hampton, Va.; Jonathan Falwell, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va.; Danny Forshee, Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Texas; Bruce Frank, Biltmore Baptist Church in Arden, N.C.; Steve Gaines, Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn.; David Galvan, New Life Church in Dallas; Blake Gideon, Edmond’s First Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla.; Mike Hamlet, First Baptist Church North Spartanburg in Spartanburg, S.C.; Chip Henderson, Pine Lake Church in Brandon, Miss.; Alex Himaya, The Church at Battle Creek in Broken Arrow, Okla.; Robert Jeffress, First Baptist Church in Dallas; Tony Lambert, Riverside Baptist Church in Denver; Drew Landry, First Baptist Church Spotswood in Fredericksburg, Va.; Richard Mark Lee, First Baptist Church in McKinney, Texas; Ed Litton, First Baptist Church North Mobile in Mobile, Ala.; Fred Lowery, First Baptist Church in Bossier City, La.; Gregg Matte, First Baptist Church in Houston; Scott Maze, North Richland Hills Baptist Church in North Richland Hills, Texas; Bob McCartney, First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, Texas; Byron McWilliams, First Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas; John Meador, First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas; James Merritt, Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, Ga.; Bob Pearle, Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas; Vance Pittman, Hope Church in Las Vegas; Clint Pressley, Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte; Willy Rice, Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Fla.; Bob Roberts, Northwood Church in Keller, Texas; Jimmy Scroggins, First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Josh Smith, MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, Texas; Glynn Stone, Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, Texas; Brandon Thomas, Keystone Church in Keller, Texas; Eric Thomas, First Baptist Church in Norfolk, Va.; Ted Traylor, Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla.; Terry Turner, Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas; A.B. Vines, New Seasons Church in Spring Valley, Calif.; Hayes Wicker, First Baptist Church in Naples, Fla.; and Don Wilton, First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
8/15/2013 2:12:38 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Church Equip events aid in tackling ethical questions

August 15 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – For one church, it might be homosexuality. For another, it might be adoption. For another, it might be abortion or race relations or pornography or human trafficking.

Whatever issue a Southern Baptist church needs to address, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is seeking to tailor congregation-by-congregation methods of helping them by means of a new initiative called Church Equip.

The topics could be anything from the arena of ethics, social and family issues, and religious freedom. Regardless of the subject, the ERLC is trying to “develop customized solutions for church equipping,” said Phillip Bethancourt, the commission’s director of strategic initiatives. The question, he said, is: “What does that church need at any given time?”

The first two Church Equip events demonstrated that diversification. In mid-July, Russell D. Moore, the ERLC’s president, taught leaders at Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas, on a Monday morning regarding sexual ethics, particularly homosexuality. The following Sunday, he spoke at an adoption luncheon at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., after preaching on the church’s Orphan Sunday.

Assisting churches takes precedence, said Moore, whose administration at the ERLC began June 1.

“The focus of the Kingdom of God in this age isn’t primarily Washington or Wall Street,” he said. “King Jesus is ruling in local congregations, colonies of His reign. That’s why equipping congregations to think through ethical questions is the number one priority of the ERLC.

“From sexuality to infertility to parenting to church discipline to racial unity and beyond, the questions facing our churches are about how we will follow Jesus through the confusing terrain of the 21st century,” Moore said.

Austin Stone Community Church desired equipping regarding homosexuality in particular for two reasons, said pastor Todd Engstrom:
  • “To continue thinking through how we can lovingly and truthfully pastor individuals who are attracted to the same sex;
  • “To think through our individual, corporate and civic response as a church community in light of” the Supreme Court’s June decision striking down the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman for federal purposes.
Moore’s training for a group of about 125 that consisted of elders and their wives, deacons and staff members from six campuses was “a game changer,” said Kevin Peck, Austin Stone’s lead pastor.

BP file photo by Adam Covington
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), seen here at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in June, has pledged to help churches deal with the current issues that are before them – adoption, homosexuality, race relations, human trafficking and pornography, to name a few.

“With all of the noise in today’s media-rich world, Dr. Moore spoke biblical truth and wisdom with a distinct level of competency and concern,” Peck said. “He offered a level of clarity, thoughtfulness, compassion and biblical precision that will enable my team to minister more effectively. We truly appreciate his candid, Christ-centered and Gospel-saturated approach to issues such as homosexuality, transgender relationships and other challenging issues in today’s society.”

Engstrom, Austin Stone’s executive pastor of campuses and communities, said Moore’s teaching “equipped our leadership to speak intelligently and lead pastorally. He tackles difficult topics like homosexuality with candor from a variety of angles – civically, pastorally and personally – and provides a clear path forward for churches to contend for the gospel in our generation.”

For Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Moore served as essentially a “cheerleader” in “kind of a pep rally” for adoptive and fostering families at the Sunday luncheon, said ministry associate Jim Watterson. Moore and his wife Maria have adopted, and he has written “Adopted for Life,” a book about the importance of adoption to churches and Christian families.

The church invited to the luncheon people from inside and outside the congregation who had some connection to adoption or foster care. The invitees either had been adopted, had adopted children, were fostering children or were preparing to be foster parents.

Moore encouraged the roughly 175 people at the luncheon “to keep going in their care for the fatherless, that it was not always easy but necessary and close to the heart of God,” Watterson said.

“He also addressed the children gathered for lunch, expressing his confirmation to them of what their parents had done and would continue to do, to love and care for them, that they were no longer considered a family with adopted children but children adopted into a safe and forever family,” Watterson recalled.

Earlier, Moore had preached in the church’s morning worship services from Romans 8 on the adoption by God Christians experience and the adoption of children Christians can participate in. He spoke in lieu of the church’s pastor, former SBC President Bryant Wright.

The day’s focus on orphan care resulted in 35 couples indicating they wanted to adopt and 30 to 35 committing to receive training to provide foster care, Watterson said.

It also marked another milestone in Johnson Ferry Baptist Church’s focus on adoption and foster care. The church encourages members to adopt and provide foster care, hosts forums for couples considering adoption and foster care, and partners with Lifesong for Orphans in its matching grant program for adopting families. Watterson, an associate in the church’s marriage and family ministry, gives much of his attention to orphan care.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Pastors or churches interested in hosting a Church Equip event may contact Sam Dahl, executive assistant to the ERLC president, at
8/15/2013 2:06:49 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Former homosexuals demand recognition

August 15 2013 by Baptist Press, WORLD News Service

WASHINGTON – A small band of former homosexuals representing about 10 organizations stood on the steps of the Supreme Court in late July to demand recognition and equal rights under the Constitution. They protested the claim by homosexual activists that people with same-sex attractions cannot change.

“Anti-ex-gay extremists say that I do not exist – that we don’t exist,” said Christopher Doyle, president of Voice of the Voiceless and Equality and Justice for All. “Tell that to my wife of seven years. Tell that to my three beautiful children.”

Some of the activists spent the morning in meetings on Capitol Hill. Doyle said he met with Democrats and Republicans, all cordial, but “Republicans were definitely more sympathetic.” The event marked the first Ex-Gay Pride Month, which the group designated as the month of July. Organizers had originally planned a reception at the Family Research Council, but emailed and phoned threats from homosexual activists caused them to postpone the event until September at an undisclosed location. Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, will receive the first Ex-Gay Pride Freedom Award at the event.

Greg Quinlan, president of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), said homosexual activists have no room for other opinions because they want to “take over” education, health care and government so that theirs is the only voice heard. Quinlan, a lobbyist, said he learned his trade while working with the Human Rights Campaign Fund in the 1980s and ’90s.

“When you see that equality sign in their logo, it’s not about equality – it’s about dominance,” Quinlan said. “It’s not about human rights. It’s about sexual rights of a small sexual minority.”

The gathering at the Supreme Court only numbered about a dozen but they said there are thousands of ex-gays around the country who are afraid to identify as such.

“I have suffered more discrimination and intolerance as an ex-gay than I did when I was actually in the [homosexual] lifestyle,” said Grace Harley, an African American woman who lived for 18 years as a transgendered man named Joe.

“Former homosexuals like me need protection,” Harley said. “Ex-gays are more hated than gays are.”

Various participants explained how they believe they ended up in the homosexual lifestyle, including childhood sexual abuse, emotionally incestuous relationships with parents and unresolved bitterness toward fathers.

One man, Chuck Peters, said he was molested by his Boy Scout troop leader, which sexually disoriented him and led to 22 years in the homosexual lifestyle. He held up a printed copy of sworn testimony from Nicholas Cummings, the former American Psychological Association president who led the effort to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness, to point out that homosexuals have the ability to change.

Peters said after his boyfriend died of AIDS, he decided to seek therapy to determine why he had such a strong attachment to other men. He eventually found the help he sought, but not before being told “over and over again that I was born that way and I should accept it.” Peters, now the clinical director of the Sexual Orientation Change Institute in Beverly Hills, Calif., said therapists told him he had internal homophobia that made him not want to be homosexual.

Richard Cohen, who appeared with his wife of 33 years, said he was delivered from unwanted same-sex attraction and now helps others experience the same. Cohen, a psychotherapist and director emeritus of the International Healing Foundation in Bowie, Md., said he’s found there are many reasons people become gay over the course of thousands of counseling sessions. He said he has an 85 percent success rate with those who want to change their orientation, using a three-step process: identifying root causes, healing root causes and helping people bond in friendship with their own gender.

“We should have the right, like all Americans, to be able to express our views without intimidation,” Doyle said while wearing a pink “Ex-Gay is ok!” lapel pin. “We’re not going anywhere.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reprinted from WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine.)
8/15/2013 2:01:42 PM by Baptist Press, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

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