August 2013

Church shooting processed by members

August 15 2013 by Brian Koonce, Baptist Press

NORWOOD, Mo. – Days after churchgoers left their pews mid-sermon to tackle a gunman armed with a .357 magnum revolver, they returned to their seats at First Baptist Church in Norwood, Mo., for Bible study and to talk through the experience with chaplains.

Many were quiet at first, but by the end of the evening most of the 25 people present began to open up about the traumatic events of July 21 that left the congregation shaken but uninjured.

A man identified in court documents as Earnest J. Smith entered the church that Sunday morning and fired two shots – one into the ceiling and one at the floor between himself and the pastor – before being tackled and subdued.

The follow-up session opened with Psalm 46. Pastor Stephen Fugitt introduced the passage by reading what he’d written in his notes: Just read the scripture, no need to comment.

The Pathway photo
Pastor Stephen Fugitt and his wife, of First Baptist Church in Norwood, Mo., are helping church members cope in the aftermath of a July 21 shooting in which no one was injured but nerves were rattled.  

“God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its turmoil.”

The church broke into groups with five Missouri Baptist Convention disaster relief chaplains.

They rehashed the order of events, recalling the doors at the back of the auditorium banging open and a gun blast long before anyone could figure out what was going on. With their ears still ringing 72 hours later, they debated whether they’d heard two shots or three.

(A recording of the church service suggests there were just two shots, though the bullet that tore a ragged gash in the carpet fragmented and put two holes in the wall a foot to the left of where Fugitt was standing.) They searched for the shot-through ceiling tile, eventually realizing it’d already been replaced.

They also thanked God that though there were several teenagers in the service that morning, most of the kids were in a different part of the church for children’s church and didn’t have to witness things firsthand. They praised the quick action of the five men who tackled the suspect.

They joked nervously about their jumpiness and a reluctance to sit with their backs facing the door. They also asked if there was anything they could have done differently.

In this case, it appears the best possible scenario played out: People were frightened and a suspect is behind bars, but no one was injured beyond one church member who cut his shoulder on a chair as he wrestled with the gunman.

Mike Dedmon, a lay chaplain from Elk Creek Baptist Church, came to help. “The gentleman I spoke with was at first very nervous,” Dedmon said, “but the longer we went the more he opened up and realized that God had used him last Sunday. I think he’s starting to have peace about it.”

Nancy Dedmon, Mike’s wife, spoke with the wife and the mother of two men who wrestled the gun away from the suspect.

“I think they’re seeing that God had everyone in the right place at the right time,” Nancy said.

“I saw some strength in these people,” Mike said. “Strength that only God can give.”

“I think they ministered to me just as much as I did to them,” Nancy said.

Church members asked for continued prayer to recover from the shock of the situation, and also that parents who don’t attend church themselves but allow their children to attend will continue to allow that.

“Pray that we can feel that church is a safe place again,” one woman said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Koonce is a staff writer with The Pathway, news journal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)
8/15/2013 1:56:30 PM by Brian Koonce, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Russian gay ‘propaganda’ ban stirs controversy

August 15 2013 by Baptist Press

SOCHI, Russia – Vodka, boycotts and presidential statements are swirling around a new Russian law banning gay “propaganda” passed ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

At issue is a law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in July that outlaws the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” and levies fines for holding gay pride rallies or informing minors about the gay community. Foreign violators may be thrown in jail for 15 days and then deported.

Political leaders, athletes and gay rights activists have condemned the law, with President Obama saying he had “no patience” with countries that discriminate against homosexuals.

“I think [Russia and Putin] understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently,” Obama told “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno.

BP file photo
A new Russian law outlawing the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” is casting a cloud over the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. This file photo of the Olympic countdown clock was taken when there was just one year left to prepare before the 22nd Winter Olympic Games.

Some have called for a boycott of the Olympics. The Los Angeles Times reported that British actor Stephen Fry compared the law to the Nazi repression of Jews that led to a partial boycott of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

But Western leaders and officials, including Obama, have rejected the idea of a boycott, arguing it only hurts athletes who have worked hard to prepare.

According to the Times, British Prime Minister David Cameron said via Twitter that “we can better challenge prejudice as we attend, rather than boycotting the Winter Olympics.”

Patrick Sandusky of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) told The Associated Press (AP) that the only people negatively impacted by boycotts historically are the Olympic athletes.

“Past boycotts have not worked, and the USOC is not planning on boycotting these Games,” Sandusky said.

That has not stopped some gay activists from challenging the law in their own ways. AP reported that many gay bars across North America have stopped selling Russian vodka, and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a U.S. gay rights group, urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to be more forceful in its opposition to the law.

“They should be advocating for the safety of all LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people in Russia, not simply those visiting for the Olympics,” HRC President Chad Griffin told AP. “Rescinding this heinous law must be our collective goal.”

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Muko said Aug. 9 that Russia would not yield to political pressure over its law.

“We don’t have to be afraid of threats to boycott the Olympic Games,” Mutko told the Interfax news agency, according to AP. “All sensible people understand that sports demand independence, that it is inadmissible that politics intervene.”

According to the Times, IOC President Jacques Rogge said this month that Mutko had given assurances that the law would not apply to visitors during the Winter Games. He said Aug. 9, however, that he requested “clarifications” before determining if those assurances would be sufficient.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by John Evans, a writer in Houston.)
8/15/2013 1:42:27 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NAMB, ERLC leaders assure chaplains of support

August 14 2013 by Mike Ebert, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – “We are proud of you. You are heroes to Southern Baptists.”

Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), spoke those words to about 55 Southern Baptist senior military chaplains from across the armed services during a conference call that included Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), and Doug Carver, the retired Army major general who leads NAMB’s chaplaincy efforts.

“We wanted to hear from them about the challenges they are facing in their ministry and ways we can better help and support them in the important work they are doing,” Ezell said after the Aug. 8 session.

Recent months have brought challenges on many fronts as chaplains face navigating their ministry in light of the military’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the U.S. Supreme Court’s abolishment of the Defense of Marriage Act and other religious freedom issues facing chaplains and members of the military.

The decisions and changes mean chaplains might be asked to perform marriages for same-sex couples as well as counseling, marriage retreats and funerals. There are also concerns about whether military chaplains will be able to quote certain scripture passages without facing disciplinary action for offending homosexuals.

NAMB photo by Susan Whitley
Doug Carver, right, executive director of the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) chaplaincy team, leads a discussion of religious freedom issues with 55 Southern Baptist senior military chaplains. NAMB President Kevin Ezell, second from right, participated in the conference call along with Russell Moore, far left, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.  

“Those of you serving in the military are at the front wave of what we are eventually going to be facing all over this country,” Moore told the chaplains. “You are going to be dealing with some things that every community in the United States will be dealing with in a few short years.”

The NAMB chaplaincy team that Carver leads regularly communicates with the 1,434 Southern Baptist chaplains who serve the U.S. military around the globe.

“For the last few months we have dealt with numerous issues regarding religious liberty,” Carver said. “To date and to the best of my knowledge in all three components of the services, we have had no chaplains who have left as a result of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell or the Defense of Marriage Act and we have none who have been charged or punished as a result of their beliefs.”

One call participant stated that current Department of Defense (DOD) policy protects religious freedom for chaplains, but the concern is that individual commanders may enact policies that conflict with or reach beyond DOD policy.

“All of us have different situations with the people we are working with,” Carver said. “If you have conflicts that occur, we would like the opportunity to know about it so we can walk through that with you.”

Ezell said NAMB has been and will continue to work closely with Moore and the ERLC to be proactive on these issues.

“We will have your back with every ounce within us to support and defend you every step of the way,” Ezell said. “We are going to work hand in hand with those who are engaged in these types of issues every day.”

Moore compared what today’s chaplains are facing to the challenges the apostle Paul faced during the time of the first-century church. Paul sought to exercise his rights as a Roman citizen not for the sake of his own well-being but for the precedents being set. He recounted Paul’s stay in a Roman prison as recorded in Acts chapter 16.

“Paul is not seeking his rights, but he knows his response to this has implications for everybody else. Remember to recognize you are really in the same place,” Moore told the chaplains. “You are making decisions that will have an influence for the next 300 years to come. We need to know what is going on so that you are not standing alone. We are going to work with NAMB legislatively and culturally and we will be educating Southern Baptists so that the people in our churches will know.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Ebert writes for the North American Mission Board.)
8/14/2013 12:17:52 PM by Mike Ebert, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GuideStone expands participants

August 14 2013 by Tim Head, Baptist Press

SAN FRANCISCO – O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, reported on the continued growth in the number of the entity’s expanded ministry participants at a meeting of the trustees in San Francisco.

Trustees also were updated on GuideStone’s long-range plan and on health care reform efforts. Expanded ministry participants, Hawkins said, help provide stability and strength to GuideStone’s insurance program.

“Each year, we see value from our efforts to reach out and engage like-minded evangelical organizations,” Hawkins said at the July 29-30 meeting. “Currently, expanded market ministries comprise over 25 percent of our total group medical plan participants and provide more than 10 percent of total new money into the retirement plan.

“Additionally, many of the participants in our expanded ministries insurance base are younger, which enables us to keep our premiums lower for our participants, as well as providing the ability to attain additional economies of scale across all of our product lines,” Hawkins said.

GuideStone’s request for a ministry assignment change was approved by messengers to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in June, allowing GuideStone to serve like-minded investors and individuals with a focus on Southern Baptist and evangelical church members.

Even with a potential new market, Hawkins said GuideStone will continue to serve “the SBC pastor at the crossroads” and “will remain committed to its vision of enhancing [the pastor’s] financial security.”

GuideStone 100

Citing Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish ...,” Hawkins said GuideStone 100, the entity’s long-range strategic plan, provides the ministry with its design, definition, dynamic, direction and dependence.

Hawkins highlighted the more than 50 significant organizational achievements accomplished under GuideStone 95, which – along with GuideStone 90 – was a stepping stone toward the completion of GuideStone 100.

GuideStone 90 was completed in 2008, and GuideStone 95 was completed this year. Hawkins said the accomplishments of GuideStone 95 have helped position the entity for its goal of becoming the premier provider of employee benefit products to the evangelical community.


Hawkins updated trustees on GuideStone’s Mission:Dignity ministry, which raises funds to provide financial support to needy retired Southern Baptist ministers, denominational workers, missionaries and their surviving spouses. Qualifying individuals receive $200 a month in assistance; couples are eligible for $265 a month.

The amounts are doubled for the neediest persons with at least 30 years of ministerial service and lower levels of income. Trustees voted to increase the income guidelines for Tier 2 relief recipients by 12 percent to allow more people to qualify for the higher level of assistance. As of June 30, Mission:Dignity served 1,872 individuals and couples.

A record-breaking 2,400 churches participated in Mission:Dignity Sunday June 23 with more than 450,000 free bulletin inserts shared in worship services. During the first six months of 2013, 3,949 donors made gifts in support of Mission:Dignity and revenues for the program increased 13.7 percent over last year.

Mission:Dignity receives no Cooperative Program allocation and is funded primarily through the direct gifts of individuals, Sunday School classes, groups and churches. One hundred percent of gifts are used to assist aged ministers, workers and their widows in need with nothing taken out for administrative expenses.

Health care reform

Trustees heard a report from Rod Miller, GuideStone’s special counsel, on health care reform legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Miller noted that PPACA “fails to recognize the special legal nature of church health plans and imposes numerous new plan requirements while not affording the participants in church health care plans equal treatment with those who are in secular plans.”

“A major area of focus for us has been GuideStone’s ongoing commitment to be an advocate for employers and participants in church plans as health care reform becomes more fully applicable in 2014,” Miller said. “GuideStone continues to be actively and diligently engaged in preserving and protecting church health plans designed for those in ministry.”

Miller reiterated that GuideStone is committed to “protecting, persevering and providing fairness for church plan participants.”

In response to the health care reform report, trustees passed a resolution stating their commitment to upholding biblical convictions regarding the sanctity of life, including the lives of the unborn.

Regarding DOMA, Miller said GuideStone is “monitoring federal and state developments flowing from the decision, working with other like-minded church benefits boards to evaluate next steps and determining ways to mitigate the potential impact on church plans.”


John Jones, GuideStone’s chief operating officer, reported on GuideStone’s activities through the first half of the year, which he characterized as a “remarkable period of time across all areas of GuideStone’s ministry.”

“In May, GuideStone’s total assets increased to $11.7 billion from the previous high of $10.7 billion in the fall of 2007,” Jones said. “From an absolute performance perspective, including overall net income and returns, GuideStone Funds continue to achieve superlative results.

“In addition, GuideStone Funds has continued to receive favorable national recognition from industry firms such as Lipper and fi360. For nine straight quarters, GuideStone Funds has ranked in the top 7 percent of all fund families in the fi360 Fund Family Fiduciary Rankings universe,” Jones said.

“This is a particularly meaningful recognition because of the broad scope of criteria used by fi360 in their rankings. Their evaluation includes such factors as regulatory oversight, track record, assets under management, stability of the organization, expense ratio/fees relative to peers, risk-adjusted performance relative to peers and overall investment performance relative to peers.

“And for the second year in a row,” Jones said, “GuideStone was recognized by the Lipper Fund Awards, this time for the Best Fund Over Three Years (Mixed-Asset Target 2025 Funds) for the MyDestination 2025 Fund.”

This has been a banner year for GuideStone in medical insurance enrollment, Jones reported.

“Enrollment in our medical plans increased by over 3,000 lives, and total enrollment exceeded 33,000 lives,” Jones said. “And our group medical plans have continued to see significant gains as over 1,100 new group lives have been added since the beginning of the year.”

Regarding GuideStone’s property and casualty insurance program, Jones noted the alignment in values between GuideStone and Brotherhood Mutual since the two joined efforts to serve churches and ministry organizations, leading to some positive results in the first half of 2013.

“In the first half of the year, Property & Casualty has already surpassed total bound premiums posted in 2012,” Jones said. “In the first half of 2013, we are renewing basically 100 percent of existing accounts. Average new premium has increased nearly 70 percent, from $260,000 per month in 2012 to $440,000 per month in 2013.

“In April, GuideStone acquired the property and casualty account of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and became the first Brotherhood agency to write more than $1 million in one month. And we are proud that members of our sales team are consistently ranked in Brotherhood Mutual’s Top 10 producers nationwide – successfully closing 61 percent of all accounts they submitted this year.”

In closing remarks, Hawkins reminded trustees, “Every decision we make as trustees and staff must be considered in terms of our vision statement which says, ‘We exist to honor the Lord by being a lifelong partner with our participants in enhancing their financial security.’”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Head is executive officer for denominational and public relations services at GuideStone Financial Resources.)
8/14/2013 12:07:04 PM by Tim Head, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Calif. transgender students to pick restrooms

August 14 2013 by John Evans, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Transgender students at California K-12 public schools now can choose which gender’s restrooms and locker rooms they want to use.
The measure, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown Aug. 12, gives transgender students the right “to participate in sex-segregated programs, activities and facilities” based on their perception of their gender and regardless of biology, as described by The Associated Press (AP).

The American Civil Liberties Union of California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights were among the bill’s supporters, AP reported, and while Brown signed the bill without comment, Assembly Speaker John Perez, D.-Los Angeles, said the new law “puts California at the forefront of leadership on transgender rights.”

Proponents of the bill say it will help transgendered students avoid discrimination and bullying while opponents have argued it is damaging to children.

“Jerry Brown and the Democrats have targeted every kid in public school with gender-bending brainwashing,” Randy Thomasson, president of the conservative family issues organization, said in a news release.

sxc photo by Marcin Jochimczyk
Because of a California law, transgender students will now be able to pick which restroom they use.

“Fortunately, parents can protect their children from the insanity of biological boys in girls’ restrooms and girls’ showers and biological girls in boys’ restrooms and boys’ showers by exiting the dysfunctional, immoral public schools for homeschooling and solid church schools,” Thomasson said.

A spokesman for the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, told AP that transgender students are just trying to fit in, not cause trouble for other students.

“They’re not interested in going into bathrooms and flaunting their physiology,” Carlos Alcala said, noting that the Los Angeles Unified School District has had the same policy for nearly 10 years without any reported problems.

But Karen England, executive director of the Sacramento-based conservative organization Capitol Resource Institute, said the law is unnecessary. She told AP that existing state law, which already prohibits schools from discriminating against students based on their gender identity, is enough to protect transgender children.

The answer is not to force something this radical on every single grade in California,” England told AP, noting that since no uniform data on parent or student complaints is being collected, it is impossible to accurately determine the effects of such policies.

“What about the right to privacy of a junior high school girl wanting to go to the bathroom and having some privacy or after PE showering and having to worry about being in the locker room with a boy?”

Alcala acknowledged some parents may not be pleased with the new law.

“We are hopeful school districts will work with them so no students are put in an uncomfortable position,” he told AP.

The law comes on the heels of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education into California’s Acadia Unified School District for allegedly not accommodating a transgender student.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the student is biologically female but, according to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, has identified as a male from a young age. The Department of Justice received complaints in 2011 that the girl was not allowed to use boys’ restrooms and locker rooms during her sixth- and seventh-grade years. The girl also allegedly was not allowed to stay in a cabin with boys during a district-sponsored camp.

The school district reached an agreement with the Department of Education July 24 that ended the investigation, according to the Times. Among the terms of the agreement: The district agreed to treat the student like male students and to include gender-based discrimination – including transgender status – as discrimination based on sex.

The Massachusetts Department of Education took its own steps to mandate transgender access in February, issuing a directive stating that each student “may access the restroom, locker room, and changing facility that corresponds to the student’s gender identity.” The directive also discouraged the use of gender-based clothes and practices such as lining up elementary school children by gender.

The Massachusetts directive was issued in response to a state law that added “gender identity” to the state’s nondiscrimination code. Pro-family advocates argued that such a sweeping directive was not required by the law and would only hurt children.

“The School Commissioner’s first duty is to protect all students, from kindergarten to grade 12, not endanger them,” Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said in a statement. “The overriding issue with this new policy is that opening girls’ bathrooms to boys is an invasion of privacy and a threat to all students’ safety.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Evans is a writer in Houston.)

Related column

The perils of transgender bathrooms
8/14/2013 11:55:54 AM by John Evans, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gay marriage causes pro-life rift in Ohio

August 14 2013 by Baptist Press, WORLD News Service

CLEVELAND – The nation’s oldest and largest grassroots pro-life group, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), has broken ties with a Cleveland affiliate accused of causing dissension by adding the gay marriage issue to its platform.

Like the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), Cleveland Right to Life denounces abortion, infanticide and euthanasia in its mission statement. On June 24, after a year and a half of discussion, Cleveland Right to Life announced it had updated its mission statement to include same-sex marriage as a practice “contrary to ‘the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.’”

The group added it would “consider any political candidate who does not support the right to life of the unborn child and marriage as only between a man and a woman to be unworthy of representing the rights and well-being of all of their constituents.”

The move signals a new political strategy in an era when politicians may be pro-life but untraditional in their view of marriage. In this case, the untraditional politician is Sen. Rob Portman, R.-Ohio, who in March declared his support for same-sex marriage, a reversal of his previous position.

The flip-flop caused some Ohio conservatives to drop support for Portman, who otherwise has been a consistent pro-life ally in the U.S. Senate. Portman is a co-sponsor of the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a bill that would ban abortions in Washington, D.C., after 20 weeks of gestation.

Cleveland Right to Life president Molly Smith, along with a board member, met with Portman to discuss his views on gay marriage. They thanked the senator for his pro-life record but explained his support for gay marriage conflicted with the views of Cleveland Right to Life and its membership. The hour-long meeting was cordial, according to a news release at the time.

Smith said the two sides left the meeting “agreeing to disagree.... There was no animosity.” But two weeks later, on July 17, NRLC sent a letter addressed to Smith, asking her to “remove from your website the claim that you are affiliated with NRLC.” The letter chided Cleveland Right to Life for adopting “an advocacy agenda that includes issues beyond the right to life,” and said it had “issued public criticisms of and implicit political threats against a U.S. senator who has supported the right-to-life position on every vote ... and who is a sponsor of major NRLC-backed bills.”

Smith said NRLC sent a copy of the letter to other Ohio pro-life groups as well. Although NRLC claims it has “more than 3,000 local chapters,” Smith said the term “chapter” is incorrect because the ties are informal and indirect. Like other local Right to Life affiliates, Cleveland Right to Life has its own IRS nonprofit status, bank account and board of directors. It is, however, formally affiliated with Ohio Right to Life, which in turn is an affiliate of the national group. Cleveland Right to Life remains in good standing with the state affiliate.

In response to the letter, Smith said her group removed from its website a claim that it was an “affiliate” of the national organization.

Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati, another large pro-life group in Ohio, disaffiliated itself with Ohio Right to Life several years ago over strategy disputes. Smith said the national group is losing support among grassroots pro-lifers, and she thinks it’s “crazy” to disaffiliate itself from its base.

Smith said Cleveland Right to Life’s own grassroots base has been “overwhelmingly supportive” of its stand against same-sex marriage. In her group’s view, being pro-life goes hand in hand with being pro-family. She said her supporters previously had worked to help get Portman elected, when he ran on a platform supporting traditional marriage. “We were out there in droves, which will not happen again,” Smith said.

A spokesman for Portman, Jeff Sadosky, told WORLD Magazine, “Neither Rob or his staff were involved in the disaffiliation letter.”

NRLC did not respond to specific questions from WORLD but provided a statement from Carol Tobias, the organization’s president: “The success the right-to-life movement has experienced over the past 40 years has depended on maintaining our single-issue focus on life. By focusing on the single issue of life, we have been able to bring together a broad base of people – who may disagree on other important issues in our country, but who are dedicated to ensuring that the protection of our laws are extended to the most vulnerable members of society: The unborn, the elderly, the medically dependent, and persons with disabilities.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reprinted from WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine.)
8/14/2013 11:50:25 AM by Baptist Press, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

New drug sentencing prompts ERLC concern

August 14 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s new order to prevent strict, mandatory prison terms for some low-level drug offenders may result in other sentencing problems, according to a Southern Baptist public policy expert.

Holder announced Aug. 12 a change in the Justice Department’s policies that would mean charges that “impose draconian” mandatory minimum sentences would no longer be brought against some nonviolent drug offenders without connections to gangs or drug cartels.

The revision will produce charges that result in sentences that are more appropriate for the conduct of such low-level offenders rather than that of “violent criminals or drug kingpins,” Holder said.

That approach, however, produced in him “deep reservations” about the order’s eventual implementation, said Barrett Duke of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

“Mandatory minimum sentencing was partly introduced to remove some of the subjective element in sentencing practices,” said Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy. “I am concerned [Holder’s] actions will move us to a greater disparity in sentencing than currently exists as different offices weigh similar offenses differently.”

An examination of current sentencing requirements to “balance the rule of law and rehabilitation for some low-level, first-time offenders” is proper, but legislators – not the executive branch – should be conducting it, Duke said.

sxc photo by Mateusz Atroszko
A new policy may allow less strict sentencing to non-violent offenders with no known connections to gangs or drug cartels.

“Those convicted of possessing small amounts of some illicit drugs for personal use are good candidates for such a review,” Duke told Baptist Press. “Drug abuse in our nation is a serious problem, destroying lives, families and entire communities. We must take this seriously. However, our legislators should assess the effectiveness of our current system at helping recreational users to end their use of drugs rather than simply trying to lock up as many of them as possible.”

Holder’s new order – disclosed at the annual meeting of the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates in San Francisco – came as part of a speech addressing America’s overcrowded prison system.

“[T]oo many Americans go to too many prisons for far too long and for no truly good law enforcement reason,” Holder said. “[I]t is well past time to implement common sense changes that will foster safer communities from coast to coast.”

The statistics demonstrating the problem, Holder said, include:
  • The number of inmates in federal prisons has increased by 800 percent since 1980, while the U.S. population has risen by about a third.
  • Nearly 220,000 prisoners are in federal facilities, and almost half of them are there for drug-related offenses.
  • The federal prison population is 40 percent beyond capacity.
  • The cost of incarceration at all federal, state and local government levels was $80 billion in 2010.
  • About 40 percent of former federal inmates are arrested again or experience revoked supervision within three years of their release.
In responding to Holder’s order and the problem of overcrowded prisons, Duke said punishment should be only part of the reason for incarceration. Rehabilitation should be another purpose.

“The challenge for the judicial system is to determine the right balance between punishment and rehabilitation,” Duke said. “Reducing sentences too much risks trivializing the law and the loss experienced by victims and society.

“Failing to do everything possible to return truly restored people to society as soon as possible risks devaluing the person created in God’s image,” Duke said. “To imprison nonviolent, non-career offenders with hardened criminals, especially in an already overcrowded situation, can make the rehabilitation process more difficult.”

Duke cited a resolution on prison overcrowding approved by messengers to the 2013 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston.

That resolution called for legislation to shrink “high incarceration rates without jeopardizing public safety.” It also supported probation and parole as potentially wise alternatives to lengthy sentences for some nonviolent offenders.

In his speech, Holder also announced directives for U.S. attorneys to develop guidelines for when federal charges, instead of state or local ones, should be filed; to establish broad “anti-violence strategies for badly afflicted areas” in their districts; and to “examine sentencing disparities” by race.

A February report, he said, showed sentences in recent years have been almost 20 percent longer for black male offenders than for white males convicted of comparable crimes.

Justice Fellowship, founded by the late Charles Colson, applauded Holder’s actions.

“It is time for the country to move away from using incarceration as the default punishment for all crimes and be more prudent in the pursuit of justice,” said Craig DeRoche, Justice Fellowship’s president.

“Incarceration should be reserved for the people society fears are a risk to public safety, not the answer for every law that is broken,” DeRoche said. “Instead, we are warehousing petty offenders and turning them into hardened criminals by the time they are released.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
8/14/2013 11:43:50 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

BSC consultant: Background checks, policies protect churches

August 13 2013 by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor

While many church leaders may be reluctant to impose background checks and detailed child protection policies on their staff and volunteers, it could save them and their congregation from terrible, even tragic, consequences in the future.
Background checks and establishing strong policies related to children’s ministries are essential, said Cheryl Markland, a childhood ministry consultant with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
When given the opportunity, Markland leads training sessions for churches looking to better protect their members who are involved in children’s ministry.
“It’s interesting how many churches don’t realize that they need something in writing,” Markland said.  “And they … need to be doing background checks.”
According to the Church Law & Tax website, 3 million children in the United States have been sexually abused.

One in five boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18, and one in three girls will be sexually abused before they turn that same age. Last month, a 68-year-old chaperone, who accompanied a church group to the North Carolina Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell on Oak Island, was charged with more than 20 counts of sex offenses with minors.
Background checks and policies are not guaranteed to prevent abuse, but they can help provide protection. Most screenings only cost about $10 to $15 per person.
“If you’ve done your legwork, if you’ve done your due diligence, … you’re going to be covered [legally],” Markland said. “That’s not the primary reason you do it; it is part of it.”
While churches tend to focus on background checks to provide safer conditions, Markland said the screenings should be part of a thorough children’s ministry policy.

sxc photo

Every church, she said, needs to have a written policy that includes how to handle everyday situations that involve children – how to handle situations involving sick or injured children, allergies and picking up and dropping off children.
Policies also could include assigning monitors in hallways, making sure every room has a window in the door, and that there is visual access into all classrooms and offices.
Too often churches are apprehensive about enforcing policies or conducting background checks, Markland said.
“You’re afraid you’re going to insult somebody by asking them to do a background check,” Markland said. “[Or], there’s a sense that the church is a safe place. ‘Nothing bad is going to happen here just because it’s the church’; and yet it happens all of the time.”
Markland advises all churches to conduct across-the-board background checks on those who volunteer to work with children and all staff members. This should even include volunteers who have served the church for many years.
“Even if you serve for 25 years, you still need to be screened so that it’s a level field,” she said. “A church could grandfather certain folks but the best policy is to screen everybody.”
Churches should be particularly vigilant when it comes to Vacation Bible Schools (VBS), Markland said.
“You’ll have people who volunteer for VBS [who] won’t volunteer for anything else,” she said.
“As you enlist these people to help, … you need to make sure that a background screening has been done or is up-to-date.”
“A lot of people think we just need to [screen] the people that we hire, … but your volunteers are the ones who have more direct interaction with the children and the youth.”
Congregations should also rescreen those involved with the ministry at least every three years, she said. “I wouldn’t go more than three years before I rescreened, because you don’t know [if] somebody gets charged with something else after the initial screening,” she said.
A key to creating a successful policy, however, must start with the support of church leadership.
“If your senior leadership are not on board with it, it’s not going to happen,” she said. “You have to have support from the top down for this because somebody is going to object to it. Everybody … needs to be on the same page.”
After a policy is created it needs to be followed. “If you are not enforcing the policies you have created, you … could be in more trouble than if you didn’t have a policy at all,” she said.  “Once a church acknowledges that they should have a policy and they don’t put one in place, they are liable.”
For those concerned about a background check digging up something embarrassing from the past, such as a bounced check or speeding ticket, Markland said most people can relax.
“They’re not checking for … that kind of stuff,” she said. “They’re looking for information that would pertain to … involvement with children.”
Also, churches usually set the parameters for the information they receive from the background screening company. Many of the screenings simply show that a person passed or failed the test.
“If there is a domestic abuse charge … that matters,” she said. “If there’s a drug issue, that matters. But if you got caught speeding, unless you’re driving the church van, it doesn’t matter. There are people who will freak out because it’s something they did in college, but that’s not what churches are concerned with.”
Ultimately, Markland said, the little bit of expense and effort involved with providing a safer environment is well worth it.
For more information, contact Markland at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5645, or
8/13/2013 4:31:05 PM by Shawn Hendricks, BR Managing Editor | with 2 comments

Youth Weeks challenges students to stand up for their faith

August 13 2013 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

At age five Mac Johnson’s dad left him, his younger brother and his mom. Johnson said he watched his father’s mental illness drive his father away from those who loved him most.
“My dad was my hero. I didn’t know why God would take such a valuable person away from me,” Johnson said. “I was so angry with my dad. I didn’t think there was any way God could love me.”
During his teenage years Johnson’s grades slipped, he was depressed and physically starved himself. Yet, through mentors and a mother who continued loving and teaching him about Christ, he came to trust in God’s love.
“I realized I didn’t have to let my background define me,” he said. “I could live a life of significance in Christ.”
This summer Johnson shared his story with students during youth weeks at Fort Caswell. Johnson, who will graduate from the College at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in December, led large group Bible study sessions for each of the seven youth weeks.
Youth weeks, sponsored by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), draws nearly 7,000 middle and high school students each year.
For Johnson, Caswell is like a second home, as he has spent nearly 12 summers at Caswell helping with Youth Weeks. His mom, Merrie Johnson, is the BSC senior consultant for student evangelism and ministry and coordinates summer youth weeks. “Caswell and Youth Weeks have taught me about being a man of integrity and about leadership. I’ve learned more about what it means to follow Jesus,” he said. “Our words paint a picture of our testimony. Don’t just be a Christian on Sunday and Wednesday; make your life line up everyday.”

BeDoTell photo by Lou Owoc
Ashley Seagle, left, and Jonathan Wyndham, right, lead worship at Youth Weeks. The worship team is made up of college students, and they spend the summer facilitating Youth Weeks at Fort Caswell.

This year’s Youth Weeks theme was “Speak Up, Step Up, Stand Up,” based on 1 Timothy 4:12. Students were challenged to live in a manner that honors and glorifies God. They learned how to be witnesses for Christ in their speech, conduct love and faith.
“Are we living in the name of Jesus?” said Chad Poe, who served as the camp speaker one week this summer. “God works through limited people to make Himself known.”
Poe encouraged students to trust that Jesus will work in their lives to accomplish His Kingdom purposes, even during difficult situations.
“In the midst of this broken world, Jesus provides comfort” he said. “Everything that is broken about this world points to the idea that we need someone to fix it.” 
In order to stand up for their faith students must continue growing in their knowledge of Christ, yet they must not forsake growing in their relationship with Christ. “We’re so caught up in being self-righteous that we’ve confused being a spiritually mature person with knowing stuff,” Poe said.
Ashley Huneycutt, minister of students at Hopewell Baptist Church in Monroe, has brought youth to Caswell for about 11 years.
“Caswell is a time for our youth to be discipled, and it gives them a chance to be who they are,” he said. “It is a developing ground for them to begin owning their faith.”
As a result of participating in Youth Weeks, Huneycutt has traveled twice to Haiti to help deliver food with Change This World.
In 2011, Merrie Johnson led youth weeks students to partner with Change This World, a ministry to help send food to people all over the world who have little to eat. Through Change This World, organizations, churches and individuals can feed someone for a quarter a meal.
She decided that all of the money given by students to the Youth Weeks missions offering would go toward providing meals for people in Haiti. In 2011, students provided for 200,000 meals and last year they gave $80,000, making it possible to send 300,000 meals to Haiti. This summer students not only sent meals to Haiti, but are helping support orphanage children and teachers.
Earlier this year Huneycutt and a group from Hopewell delivered meals in Haiti that they packaged with their church. “It could have ended at Caswell, but we took it home,” Huneycutt said. “Other people saw the need. We wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Caswell has helped give my church an opportunity to serve.”
Merrie Johnson recognizes the need for parents and youth leaders to be more active in discipling their youth and helping them find ways to serve in their community and around the world.
“We’ve got to do more to equip our adults,” she said. “If no one is living the Christian life out before our students, they won’t know how to do it.”
8/13/2013 4:25:53 PM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Substitutionary atonement debate sparked by editorial on hymn

August 13 2013 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – The centrality of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is being emphasized by Southern Baptist leaders after a state newspaper editor wrote that he does not sing certain words of a popular hymn due to its mention of God’s wrath.

Substitutionary atonement refers to the belief that Jesus died in the place of sinners, taking on Himself the wrath of God that they deserved.

Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist, in an Aug. 8 editorial, paralleled the angst expressed by a Presbyterian Church USA hymnal committee in rejecting the song “In Christ Alone” because of the line “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied.”

“Some popular theologies do hold that Jesus’ suffering appeased God’s wrath,” Terry wrote. “That is not how I understand the Bible and that is why I do not sing the phrase ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’ even though I love the song ‘In Christ Alone.’”

Terry’s editorial prompted numerous reactions on Twitter from concerned Southern Baptist leaders, including Daniel Akin, Hershael York, Chad Brand and Jason Duesing, as well as an official statement from Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, and a clarification by Terry.

A clarification by Terry was issued to the media Aug. 12 in which he wrote that some of the controversy could relate to “different meanings of the word ‘wrath.’”

In his editorial, Terry wrote that the Bible “speaks clearly about the wrath of God and warns that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God.”

“Yet there remains a question about whether God was an angry God at Golgotha whose wrath had to be appeased by the suffering of the innocent Jesus,” Terry wrote. “Sometimes Christians carelessly make God out to be some kind of ogre whose angry wrath overflowed until the innocent Jesus suffered enough to calm Him down.”

Terry concluded, “God is not the enemy. He is our seeking Friend (Luke 15). That is why I prefer to focus on His love evidenced at Calvary rather than on His wrath.”

In a clarification posted above the original column, Terry said the editorial was not about atonement but “about what has been called ‘the mindset of God’ at Calvary. Some emphasize God as angry and vengeful. To me this does not properly recognize God’s love expressed in the incarnation....”

Lance, along with Alabama State Board of Missions President John Killian, released a statement Aug. 9 in response to the editorial, noting, “We share the expressed concerns of many who have disagreed with the article.”

Lance and Killian, pastor of Maytown Baptist Church, affirmed the lyrics of the hymn In Christ Alone and wrote, “As Alabama Baptists seek to be true to Scripture, we affirm the essential and historic Christian doctrine of substitutionary atonement.” They offered their prayer support to Terry and the newspaper’s staff “and we call on all who have expressed concern to pray as well.”

In a tweet Aug. 9, Lance wrote, “I love the Gettys! I love ‘In Christ Alone.’ I believe in the substitutionary atonement of Christ!” and he linked to a video performance of the song. Keith Getty co-wrote the song, and his wife Kristyn sings it. In a second tweet, Lance wrote, “I especially love the lyrics affirming substitutionary atonement.”

Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted a link to Terry’s column Aug. 8, adding, “Baptist[s] should be embarrassed by this!” In a subsequent tweet, Akin indicated that Terry was saying Jesus didn’t satisfy the wrath of God “after misrepresenting what is meant.”

“To deny the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus at the cross reveals a basic misunderstanding of God’s holiness/love & sin’s gravity/cost,” Akin tweeted.

For Akin and others, it’s not an either/or proposition; it’s that God’s love and His wrath both are vital elements of the cross.

York, professor of Christian preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted a link to the editorial and wrote, “I am stunned at this.” In subsequent tweets, York quoted Isaiah 53:10 and wrote, “To whom did He make an offering for guilt and why, if God were not angry at sin? Why was God pleased to crush Him if not for sin?”

York also tweeted, “Why did God forsake His own Son if not for the awfulness of my sin? ... God was always FOR me and always AGAINST my sin – which is precisely why He sacrificed His own Son. ... Please @drbobterry, if you challenge satisfaction element of the atonement, have the intellectual honesty to not misrepresent it. An ogre?”

Chad Brand, professor of Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a comment posted below Terry’s editorial, said there are several flaws in the column, particularly, “that you leave out the entire issue of propitiation,” which is the doctrine that the wrath of God was satisfied by Christ on the cross.

Brand noted that although Terry cites the Holman Bible Dictionary, he cites the old edition no longer published by LifeWay Christian Resources.

“The article on expiation in the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary has a new article which specifically argues for a biblical understanding of propitiation,” wrote Brand, one of three general editors of the newer version.

Jason Duesing, vice president for strategic initiatives and assistant professor of historical theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted, “The substitution of Christ’s sacrifice is not the stuff of preference, but rather something vital to embrace.”

Duesing, in a blog post Aug. 9, said a believer’s hope is found in Christ’s sufficient sacrifice, “and about this hope we should sing as if our lives depended on it, for they do.”

In a post on the Baptist21 website Aug. 9, Nathan Akin, pastor for disciple-making at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., wrote that when denominations that question the authority of Scripture reject In Christ Alone, “we should not be surprised.”

“However, when SBC Convention leaders question the content of that song and say they will not sing the line in question ... this should be alarming for Alabama and Southern Baptists,” Akin wrote.

Terry, Akin wrote, “seems to indicate we either need to emphasize [God’s] love or his wrath,” whereas both are on display at the cross and in the song. Akin added that Terry “seems to deny or at least minimize Penal Substitution,” and the editorial “is a stinging reminder that the Conservative Resurgence is not over.”

In his clarification, Terry referenced the line in his editorial which said, “... it is God’s grace that initiated the sacrifice of Jesus to provide covering and forgiveness for our sin and that His sacrifice satisfied the holy demands of God’s righteousness for sin to be punished.” Terry said that line in his editorial “is an affirmation of the penal substitutionary atonement understanding of salvation.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a blog post Aug. 12 that “the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death on the cross was a major issue in the Conservative Resurgence” within the SBC in the last quarter of the 20th century.

“In its earliest phase, modern theological liberalism developed an antipathy to the substitutionary nature of the atonement,” Mohler wrote at

Mohler recounted a debate in 1987 between Fisher Humphreys, a professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at the time, and Paige Patterson, now president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “The lengthy debate revealed a deeper divide over the nature of the atonement than many Southern Baptists had been prepared to acknowledge,” Mohler wrote.

The Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, Patterson said in the 1987 debate, reveals an atonement model that is central and essential, and that model was both penal and substitutionary.

“Looking at the debate, now more than a quarter century behind us, it appears that the main issue was the centrality of substitution and the fact, as Patterson rightly insisted, that all other understandings of the cross in the Bible are themselves dependent on penal substitution,” Mohler wrote.

In his statement to the media Aug. 12, Terry pointed to previous editorials he has written on the atonement for clarification of his views.

Regarding the word “wrath,” Terry wrote, “If the meaning is that on Calvary God’s punishment for our sins was poured out on Jesus, then that is certainly biblical and something I would never question. That is my understanding of penal substitutionary atonement and is what I have written through the years.

“If the meaning of ‘wrath’ is that God is vindictive and took joy in punishing His Son then that is not how I find God described in the Bible,” Terry wrote.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)

Related story

God’s wrath taboo subject for PCUSA hymnal
8/13/2013 4:13:25 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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