August 2013

Unique doors open to black missionaries overseas

August 7 2013 by Susan O’Hara, Baptist Press

RIDGECREST, N.C. – College junior Lauren Dugas had never met an African American missionary prior to this year’s Black Church Leadership and Family Conference. Neither had many of the other 900 men, women and children from predominantly black Southern Baptist churches who spent the week at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center.

Of the 4,900 Southern Baptist workers serving overseas through the International Mission Board (IMB), only 26 are black; eight of them were on hand for the week’s events July 22-26, encouraging others to engage in international missions. The theme for this year’s conference was “Leave all, follow fully, make disciples.” 

At the conclusion of IMB’s July 24 presentation, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Fred Luter described how he met his first African American missionary at the conference years before. David Cornelius, a retired IMB missionary and staff member, had urged Luter to visit the mission field. But Luter never did, believing he was too busy.

After his election as SBC president, part of Luter’s role included going on an international trip. He spent two weeks in Africa.
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IMB photo by Amanda Smith
George Smith, an IMB worker in Uganda, answers a question from Tammy Dugas, an attendee at the Black Church Leadership and Family Conference at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center. Dugas attended Smith’s breakout session, learning more about the hardships and joys of life on the field.  


“It was one of the most rewarding times in my life,” he said. “I regretted, pastors, that I didn’t do this a lot sooner.... So let me challenge you: Don’t let it take you to be elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention to go to the mission field. 

“Ask God right now, ‘God, put upon my heart and upon the heart of my church a passion to go onto the highways and byways of life.’ Pastors, the harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few,” Luter said. “Let’s take up the commandment and the commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s make disciples.”


Raising the number

Dugas sat in the audience and listened to various presentations as she flipped through a booklet about IMB.

A student at Louisiana College in Pineville, La., Dugas knows God has called her to the international mission field. As a child, she was even dubbed “little missionary” by one of the men in her church.

Her mother, Tammy, also attended the event, becoming more comfortable with the idea of her daughter serving overseas as the week progressed. She said meeting African American missionaries and attending breakout sessions was helpful.

“I believe it’s preparing me for what I believe God is doing in my daughter,” she said.

When Dugas arrived at Ridgecrest, she was surprised that so much of the conference revolved around missions. 

At an exhibit for Black Missions Link, a website of resources for African American pastors and their churches, Dugas spoke with several IMB workers who encouraged her to apply for the Journeyman Program (for college graduates willing to commit to two years of overseas service).

“You don’t see too many African American missionaries,” Dugas said, adding that it was “amazing” to meet black missionaries at the conference. “[We] as African Americans, we do care about our third-world countries and we are praying for them. And we should go over to these countries and share our faith. We shouldn’t be in our comfort zone. We need to get uncomfortable....”

Besides lack of exposure to black missionaries, Keith Jefferson, IMB’s missional strategist for African American churches, said other barriers for church members include financial difficulties and fear of the unknown.

Nearly all of IMB’s black missionaries are veterans who have served 12 years or more, he said. Just a few years ago that number stood at 31, but as workers completed their terms or resigned, there were no new African American missionaries to take their place.

“There are around 300 Asian missionaries, around 90 Latinos and then there are 26 African American missionaries,” Jefferson said. “From the perspective of African Americans, we know there are roughly 1 million African Americans in the SBC, about 6.5 percent. If we were to represent in Southern Baptists’ missionary force what we represent in the convention’s membership, it would be over 300.”


Instilling a passion

Luter also spoke of the importance of raising up young black missionaries.

“In the churches I grew up in as a kid, I never heard a thing about foreign missions,” Luter said. “So I think it’s just a process of educating our churches, to start our kids very young, to put this in the back of their minds that foreign missions can be an option.”

Luter’s son Fred “Chip” Luter III did just that during the conference.

While their parents attended sessions, youth ages 12-18 attended Centrifuge camp led by Chip, pastor of youth and young adults at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.

On the final evening of the conference, Chip challenged the students about missions service. He and several other pastors had recently returned from taking a group of about 40 youth to South Africa.

“What about leaving the comfort of home to make sure a world that doesn’t know Jesus Christ has a chance to hear witnesses?” he asked, telling the youth to seek out people “far from God, but close to you.”

Jefferson said unique doors often are opened to African Americans sharing Christ overseas. In places like East Asia, dark skin attracts interest and curiosity, drawing people to listen to the gospel. In other countries, people with dark skin are eager to hear the gospel from black missionaries. 

“When African Americans go to places that have people of color,” Jefferson said, “there are people in those countries that say, ‘You know, the white missionaries have always come, but when you come, the people here know that [Christianity] is not a religion for whites only, it’s a religion for all the people of the world.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Susan O’Hara is an IMB summer intern. To learn more about how your church can be involved in international missions, visit blackmissionslink.org or call Keith Jefferson at 1-800-999-3113, ext. 1422.)


Related story

Black missionary changing view of Christianity
8/7/2013 2:49:40 PM by Susan O’Hara, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Black missionary changing view of Christianity

August 7 2013 by Susan O’Hara, Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. – Jerry Bates* attracts a lot of attention in Central Asia. As an American, he doesn’t quite fit in. As a Christian who is African American, he topples the worldview of many of the Muslims he meets. 

Bates says when people in Central Asia ask about his religion, they expect him to profess Islam because he is black.

“I seem different,” Bates says. “They say if you have darker skin, you’re probably a Muslim. If you have lighter skin, you’re a Christian.” It’s a deep-seated belief in that part of the world, he contends.

But Bates sees people’s curiosity as an opportunity to share his testimony and spread the gospel. 

Of the 4,900 Southern Baptist workers who serve through International Mission Board (IMB), Bates is one of only 26 African Americans.

Although Bates has served with IMB for more than 12 years, it wasn’t something he planned to do growing up. In college, his goal was to become a businessman.
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IMB photo by Amanda Smith
Jerry Bates*, an IMB worker in Central Asia, describes his experiences as an African American Christian living in a mostly Muslim country. Being African American opens unique doors for Bates, allowing him to share with people who have never heard the gospel. *Name changed.


“I didn’t know exactly what a missionary did,” Bates says. “I just knew it wasn’t me. They always lived in strange places and did strange things and learned strange languages.”

A summer mission trip to Central Asia, however, broke Bates’ heart. After only one week of seeing hopelessness on the faces of people who had never heard the name of Jesus, who had no access to the gospel and who had never attended church, Bates knew he had to share Christ with the unreached.

He returned to finish his final two years of college and, after completing his degree, went back to Central Asia as a missionary. It was there he met Fuad.*

A local who transported scripture across country borders, Fuad is an active evangelist who shares the gospel with everyone he meets. But his zeal for Christ resulted in an arrest on false charges, followed by 18 months of imprisonment.

Bates expected Fuad, a ministry partner, to ask for help in getting out of prison. Instead, when Fuad managed to send a note to Bates, he asked that Bates bring him copies of a Bible printed in the local language.

Prisoners were flocking around Fuad to hear the gospel; even prison guards wandered by to listen.

“Remember those copies you told me you were going to give me?” Fuad asked. “I need them now, because people are coming to faith and they need to read the scriptures.... Jerry, they’re in there because they’re sinful people. And no one has told them about Christ. They’re hungry.”

When Fuad completed his prison sentence, Bates asked him if he would be more cautious when sharing his faith.

“Jerry, I can’t,” Fuad replied. “People are so open to hear the gospel, even when I was in prison. How can I not tell them?”

Bates, too, has been bold in sharing about God, even when it’s outside his comfort zone. He has pushed past his introverted tendencies to build relationships and share the gospel.

“It’s a joy to see how sometimes I didn’t feel like I was qualified to do things,” Bates says, “but God put me in a certain place at a certain time to live a certain way that allowed people to grow closer to Him.

“He could have called a lot of other people, but He called me,” Bates says. “And sometimes I don’t understand why, but it’s all in His ultimate plan.”

Bates said he believes more African American missionaries are needed all over the world, especially in countries where people with dark skin are eager to hear the gospel from black missionaries.

“If you go down the list of all the African American [IMB workers], all of us at some point in time said, ‘That’s not me,’” Bates says. “And we can give you various things, whether it’s because we didn’t think African Americans could be involved in missions, we didn’t think there was funding there, we didn’t think there was a place for us. And all of these things are just lies the enemy gives to us.

“When African Americans go out and share the gospel with [the world], that really opens up a whole new can of worms and really turns [people’s] worldview around, their very understanding of God,” Bates says. 

“They show that it’s not just a particular society or a particular group – that the gospel is for all people.... The Great Commission wasn’t given to any one people. It was not given to any one segment of society. It’s given to all Christians to make disciples from all the nations.” 

*Name changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Susan O’Hara is an IMB summer intern.) 


Related story

Unique doors open to black missionaries overseas
8/7/2013 2:43:20 PM by Susan O’Hara, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Rock Spring prefers Kerr Lake baptisms

August 6 2013 by BSC Communications

It was a hot July Sunday as members of Rock Spring Baptist Church gathered along the shore of Kerr Lake near Henderson.
 
Pastor Gary Brummitt led the congregation in prayer and a meditation on the meaning of baptism.

Then he led seven new believers into Kerr Lake to be baptized.
 
Rock Spring layman Bill O’Mary stood beside Brummitt to help.
 
Fishermen in boats watched the service as Brummitt affirmed each candidate’s faith in Christ and then baptized one after the other.
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BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Margot Hunter, center, a native of Germany, celebrates her baptism. Pastor Gary Brummitt and Rock Spring Baptist Church layman Bill O’Mary help with the special July 7 service the church held at Kerr Lake. The Henderson church, while having a new facility, does not have a baptistry.

 
Earlier the morning of July 7 the church met at the usual time in their building a couple of miles away and held an abbreviated worship service focused on Rock Spring’s partnership with other Baptists through the Cooperative Program.
 
After the lakeside baptismal service, they returned to the church for lunch. “I really think the lakeside services are so inspiring.  It makes for a great sanctuary.”
 
Though Rock Spring has a well-equipped, modern building, there is no baptistery, he said, and he is content not to have one.
 
They have baptized in other nearby churches at times, but prefer to baptize in the lake when the weather is appropriate.
 
Though Rock Spring’s location is rural, just a few miles from the Virginia state line, the lake attracts new residents into the area. Brummitt said Rock Spring is committed to reaching as many as possible.
 
“It is so gratifying to see those whose lives are changed by the gospel and trusting a God who is obviously still in control and offering salvation and a meaningful life.” 
 
They have succeeded; the sanctuary has few empty seats on Sunday mornings.

He said they started a new member orientation class over the past few years because so many new members come from non-Baptist backgrounds.
 
Explaining the meaning of baptism and other aspects of faith and the SBC doctrines and practice have become much more important in recent years, he said.   
8/6/2013 11:18:15 AM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments



Gay marriage now legal in Minn., R.I.

August 6 2013 by Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Gay marriage became legal in Minnesota and Rhode Island after both legislatures approved the unions, extending gay marriage to 13 states and the District of Columbia.
 
“This is a sad day in Minnesota and Rhode Island as politicians have allowed a mockery to be made of the institution of marriage, which throughout our history has been our only social institution to bring men and women together for the benefit of any children born of their union,” Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said in a written statement Aug. 1.
 
“Today Minnesota and Rhode Island embark on a new path that jettisons the interests of children from their state marriage law, and puts people of faith in harm's way for being punished for their beliefs. We will work tirelessly to hold the politicians accountable for this travesty,” Brown said.
 
Gay couples in Minnesota married as early as 12:01 a.m. Aug. 1 in locations including the Minneapolis City Hall, St. Paul's Como Park, the Mall of America’s Chapel of Love and at many county courthouses, The Washington Post reported. Officials in the state estimated 5,000 gay couples would marry there in the first year.
 
Ceremonies in Rhode Island were performed as early as 8:30 a.m. Aug. 1 when municipal offices opened, the Christian Science Monitor reported, citing speculation that many gays there had already married in neighboring states where the practice was legalized.
 
Brown predicted the changes in law will lead to the criminalization of the Christian view of marriage as between one man and one woman.
 
“It’s only a matter of time before people of faith are targeted for punishment by government officials, and cease to enjoy the full rights of citizenship because they believe what their faith teaches them – that marriage can only be between one man and one woman,” Brown said.
 
“Based on what has already happened elsewhere, we predict that people of faith will face lawsuits, lose contracts, be denied employment and be forced to stop providing goods and services. Charities will be forced to close,” Brown said.
 
The National Organization for Marriage has pledged to spend up to $600,000 to publicize politicians’ voting records on gay marriage in Minnesota and Rhode Island.
 
“Virtually no politician in Minnesota or Rhode Island ran on a platform that openly pledged that he or she would redefine marriage if elected to office,” Brown said. “Yet, when given the opportunity, they did so. ...
 
“When the inevitable consequences happen, we will make sure that voters know who is responsible for them,” Brown said. “This issue is far from settled in either of these states.”
 
Already, the Minnesota Human Rights Commission has issued guidelines making no exceptions for religious or conscience objections for individuals, according to NOM. Rhode Island’s marriage law similarly allows no exceptions for individuals or small businesses, NOM reported.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Diana Chandler.) 
8/6/2013 11:12:32 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



CP slightly under budgeted goal for year

August 6 2013 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Year-to-date contributions to Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries received by the SBC Executive Committee are $401,802.65, or 0.26 percent, below the year-to-date budgeted goal, and are 2.78 percent below contributions received during the same time frame last year, according to a news release from SBC Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Frank S. Page.

The year-to-date total represents money received by the Executive Committee by the close of the last business day of July and includes receipts from state conventions, churches and individuals for distribution according to the 2012-13 SBC Cooperative Program (CP) Allocation Budget. 

As of July 31, gifts received by the Executive Committee for distribution through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget totaled $156,264,864.05, or 99.74 percent, of the $156,666,666.70 year-to-date budgeted amount to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America. The total is $4,473,927.80 less than the $160,738,791.82 received through the end of July 2012.

Designated giving of $184,067,622.76 for the same year-to-date period is 1.45 percent, or $2,626,549.49, ahead of the $181,441,073.27 received at this point last year. This total includes only those gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities.

July’s CP allocation receipts for SBC work totaled $14,189,710.99. Designated gifts received last month amounted to $7,358,872.69.

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ channel of giving through which a local church is able to contribute to the ministries of its state convention and to the missions and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention with a single contribution to its state convention. 

State conventions retain a portion of church contributions to the Cooperative Program to support work in their respective states and forward a percentage to Southern Baptist national and international causes. The percentage of distribution from the states is at the discretion of the messengers of each state convention through the adoption of the state convention’s annual budget.

The SBC allocation budget is distributed as follows: 50.2 percent to international missions through IMB, 22.79 percent to North American missions through NAMB, 22.16 percent to theological education, 3.2 percent to the SBC operating budget and 1.65 percent to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. 

If the convention exceeds its annual budget goal of $188 million, IMB’s share will go to 51 percent of any overage in Cooperative Program allocation budget receipts. Other ministry entities of the SBC will receive their adopted percentage amounts and the SBC operating budget’s portion will be reduced to 2.4 percent of any overage.

Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the number of Sundays in a given month, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions, the percentage of CP contributions forwarded to the SBC by the state conventions after shared ministry expenses are deducted and the timing of when the state conventions forward the national portion of Cooperative Program contributions to the Executive Committee.

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

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press staff.)
8/6/2013 11:09:32 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Evangelism training inspires Korean pastors

August 5 2013 by BR staff

After recently retiring, Don McCutcheon, former executive leader of evangelization at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), shows no signs of slowing down.

McCutcheon traveled to Seoul, Korea, in June to train pastors and lay leaders how to improve their evangelism efforts through a plan he developed called Intentionally Evangelistic Church Strategy (IECS). McCutcheon continues to teach IECS on a contract basis for the BSC.

The Korean pastor, Kwang Joo, who invited McCutcheon is the father of Sammy Joo, a BSC consultant with international campus ministry. 
 
Both McCutcheon and Sammy Joo led training in Seoul June 24-26 among a group of pastors and church leaders who represented about 30 churches. The event was hosted by New Hope Baptist Church in Seoul, where Joo’s father serves as pastor.
 
About two years ago Joo’s father heard about McCutcheon’s work with IECS and the BSC, and he invited him to train pastors in Korea.
 
By the end of the training conference, there were 16 professions of faith.
 
“Of all of the times I’ve taught this in 20 years, this was the most rewarding – a great encouragement for me,” said McCutcheon.
 
“Many churches dot the landscape, … large buildings and their steeples light up the sky at night.”
 
But pastors and lay leaders also expressed that the church has become more inward, added McCutcheon, who spoke with many Korean pastors about their concerns for their nation.
 
“[It] happens quite often after a great awakening and you start turning inward; you have a fortress mentality toward the unsaved,” McCutcheon said.
 
“Western culture has inundated Korea quite strongly. There seems to be a disconnect from the younger generation to the older generation because they haven’t been evangelized.”
 
One Korean woman told McCutcheon and Joo she had prayed for 1,000 days for her church to be used by God.
 
“These are people who spend untold hours in prayer,” he said. “Prayer meetings that are two and three hours are normal. … But they had forgotten to pray for lost people by name. That’s one of the things they came [away] very excited about.
 
“She had gone to many evangelism conferences with so many questions [but] no one was willing to answer [them],” he said.
 
“She said this conference answered [her] questions.”
 
And while discipleship is also important, McCutcheon said evangelism often gets lost in most congregations, including those in the United States.
 
“We’re not doing a great job, unfortunately, in the Southern Baptist Convention right now of either,” he said. “We are baptizing at the lowest numbers in the history. … It is heartbreaking. We’re not reaching them.”
 
McCutcheon voiced excitement for the BSC’s Evangelism and Discipleship group, which will be under the new structure set to take full effect Jan. 1, 2014.
 
“You cannot divorce evangelism and discipleship,” he added. “I think what [the BSC] has done to bring the evangelism and discipleship group [together] is hopefully going to set that standard before the hearts of the people of North Carolina.”
 
McCutcheon said he plans to return to Korea again to lead more training, possibly within the next two years.
 
For more information about scheduling IECS training contact Kathy Bennett at (800) 395-5102 at the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
8/5/2013 12:08:31 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments



Planters form partnerships at Send Conference

August 5 2013 by Adam Miller, Baptist Press

PLANO, Texas – New York City church planter Patrick Thompson started New City Church in Queens only a few months ago and wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when he arrived at the 2013 Send North America Conference.

Joined by fellow North American Mission Board (NAMB) church planter apprentices Jon Carr, Jason Jasper and Scott Stallard – all serving in New York City, Thompson had hoped to learn more nuts and bolts, and to make some good contacts with existing churches.

Thompson said what he gained at the conference, held at the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano July 29-30, in terms of connecting with potential partners was priceless.

“We probably accomplished more in 30 minutes eating our Chick-fil-A sandwiches than we would have in exchanging emails for three weeks,” Thompson said.

These connections included churches in South Carolina and Georgia who expressed potential for financial and other partnership. Thompson said he also spoke with a Hispanic leader who could connect him with leaders to serve the Spanish-speaking population New City Church is trying to reach.
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NAMB photo by John Swain
Creating environments for connections was one of the primary goals of the North American Mission Board’s Send North America Conference at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. A late-night fellowship allowed church planters to spend time with pastors and other church leaders at a more relaxed pace.


Additionally, Thompson said, he and several other New York City church planters were able to exchange notes on ministry, family and other important factors affecting planters in hard-to-reach areas of the Northeast.

“New York is a big place,” said Thompson, laughing at the obvious statement. “It’s more difficult than you would think to have ongoing connection with other leaders in the city.”

“It was cool that we just got to sit down together and talk about how ministry is going, how our families are doing and just to connect on a personal level like that.”

Connections like these were an important element in planning the Send North America Conference, said Aaron Coe, NAMB’s vice president for mobilization and marketing.

“When I was a church planter I would have loved more opportunities to have planters and partners under one roof,” Coe said. “I’m excited to see what opportunities and partnerships emerge from our time in Dallas.”

The church planting track included breakouts and workshops led by seasoned church planting leaders and practitioners discussing everything from bivocational planting to leadership development to dealing with the emotional and spiritual burdens of church planting in tough mission fields. 

Planters also had an opportunity to attend workshops addressing needs and opportunities in 30 of the 32 Send North America cities represented at the conference. 

Thompson said the workshops connected him with New York planters he’d not met in person and gave him opportunities to hear the heart of established churches already partnering in the city.

“A big part of what made it so powerful was just seeing how many leaders were praying for and partnering with and just thinking about the work [in New York City],” Thompson said. “It just feels like we’ve turned a huge corner as Southern Baptists. Can’t wait to see what happens next.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adam Miller writes for the North American Mission Board. View Send 2013 for more stories. For a short highlight video, visit namb.net/video/send2013-highlights/.)
 

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8/5/2013 11:57:45 AM by Adam Miller, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Prayers at city meetings supported in ERLC brief

August 5 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) religious freedom entity has urged the Supreme Court to protect prayers before legislative meetings and thereby prevent judges from becoming theological referees.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) filed a friend-of-the-court brief Aug. 2 with the high court in an appeal of a ruling that invalidated a New York town’s prayer policy for its board meetings. The justices announced in May they would review the lower court decision in the case but have not scheduled a date for oral arguments in their next term, which opens in October.

The case arrived at the Supreme Court on appeal from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which decided the prayers offered before the monthly meetings of the Greece, N.Y., Town Board violated the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion. In reversing a federal judge’s opinion, the appeals court, which is located in New York City, ruled the board’s prayer practice “had the effect of affiliating the town with Christianity.”

In its brief, the ERLC disagrees with the Second Circuit, contending the town’s policy did not offend the establishment clause but provided a forum for private citizens to offer prayers that were constitutionally protected. The brief argues the appeals court’s opinion would require judges to make theological decisions regarding which prayers are acceptable.

ERLC President Russell D. Moore said he agrees with his Baptist predecessors, who did not want the “government taking on the mission of the church.”

“The Town of Greece case is about a government seeking to establish a state-ordered civil religion that crowds out the most basic rights of freedom of speech,” Moore said in a written statement. “That is not what our ancestors, and their allies among the American Founders, meant by religious liberty. We shouldn’t have a state-sponsored Baptist church, I agree, but we shouldn’t have a state-sponsored Unitarian church either, and that’s what some are attempting. 

“In the Town of Greece case, private citizens are speaking, praying for a blessing on the proceedings of their city council,” Moore said. “The government doesn’t write the prayers, and doesn’t coerce anyone’s conscience. To object to this is to insist not only that the government be neutral to religious expression but to insist that the government be hostile to religious expression by citizens.” 

Three Southern Baptists were among 10 theologians who signed onto another friend-of-the-court brief that disagreed with the Second Circuit’s opinion in the case. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; and James Hamilton, associate professor at Southern Seminary, joined in a brief filed by the Liberty Institute.

The ERLC brief says Greece’s town board created a forum for free speech, not government speech, when it began inviting individuals to pray at its meetings in 1999.

“When the government allows religious speech in a public forum, it does not endorse any or all messages or establish religion,” according to the brief. “It establishes freedom. There is no tacit imprimatur of state approval on one or all speakers.”

The Second Circuit was wrong, the ERLC brief contends, when it required of legislative prayers in its decision a “perspective that is substantially neutral amongst creeds.” Such a standard would unconstitutionally compare “the content of the prayer with a state-established concept of neutrality,” the brief says. 

“This would convert private speech and religious exercise into government speech, using a civil religion that is offensive to many citizens, including many Baptists,” according to the brief.

It also would turn judges into theological arbiters, the ERLC brief says. The Supreme Court “has long recognized that the judiciary is not competent to decide theological matters for believers,” the brief says.

The Second Circuit’s requirement of neutrality in a prayer is impossible and actually harms religious liberty, according to the ERLC brief.

“Trying to create ‘neutral’ invocations at legislative meetings harms the Free Exercise rights of the religious person,” the brief says. “A person wishing to give an invocation must be able to pray according to the dictates of that person’s conscience without the prayer police scrutinizing the content of the prayer.”

While the Second Circuit said it was not ruling against all prayers at legislative meetings, the banishment of such prayers could easily be the effect, said a Southern Baptist lawyer who co-wrote the ERLC brief. At the close of its opinion, the appeals court said after discussing the “delicate balancing act” required of governments, “These difficulties may well prompt municipalities to pause and think carefully before adopting legislative prayers, but they are not grounds to preclude its practice.”

Michael Whitehead said, “Local governments reading the Second Circuit ruling will have doubts about how to have prayers that are religiously neutral. But when they read that a single prayer might be enough to make you pay the ACLU’s legal fees, officials readily conclude: ‘When in doubt, don’t.’ And religious freedom loses.”

Whitehead and his son Jonathan – lawyers in private practice in the Kansas City, Mo., area – co-wrote the brief for the ERLC. Both are members of Abundant Life Baptist Church in Lee’s Summit, Mo. Michael Whitehead was general counsel from 1990 to 1995 for the ERLC (then the Christian Life Commission) and serves now as general counsel for the Missouri Baptist Convention.

One of the Supreme Court opinions the ERLC brief relies on is Marsh v. Chambers, a 1983 decision that upheld the constitutionality of chaplaincy prayers in the Nebraska legislature.

Greece, which is a suburb of Rochester in western New York, is a town of about 96,000 people on the shore of Lake Ontario.

The case is Greece v. Galloway.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.) 
8/5/2013 11:51:01 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Ariel Castro perhaps fueled by pornography

August 5 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

CLEVELAND – The public should not be surprised by Ariel Castro’s claim that an addiction to pornography fueled his kidnap, rape, torture and imprisonment of three Cleveland women, a leading child safety advocate and Internet pornography opponent said.

Pornography can cause deviant behavior among those addicted to it, Enough Is Enough President Donna Rice Hughes told Baptist Press, stressing that the evil of pornography neither excuses nor mitigates Castro’s behavior, nor clears his responsibility.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all. We oftentimes do see those who commit sex crimes against others are in large part fueled by their addiction to pornography, and their crimes are simply an acting out of those fantasies and those things that they’ve gotten, you know, addicted to,” Hughes said.

While pornography is very addicting, those suffering addiction don’t necessarily resort to complete depraved, acting out behavior, Hughes told Baptist Press.

“But in any addiction, when people do get addicted, they often want more violent, more degrading, more explicit material. And at some point the material’s not enough and they want to act out what they’ve gotten addicted to in the material, whatever their bent has been,” Hughes said. “It’s sort of a progression that can happen; it doesn’t always happen. ... Most people who have used pornography or have gotten hooked on pornography, they have not become sexual predators.”

Castro was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 937 counts of crimes including aggravated murder, kidnapping, rape and assault against three women who disappeared 10 to 12 years ago. Until their May 6 escape, he imprisoned Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, fathering through rape a child, now 6, with Berry. Castro said during his sentencing hearing that he had an addiction to pornography and could not control his impulses.
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The prosecution’s claim that Castro made one of his prisoners wear a motorcycle helmet while chained in the home’s basement supports the notion of Castro acting out a porn addiction, Hughes said.

Such addictions can never be used to justify crime, said Hughes, who offers on her website InternetSafety101.org educational materials she says are suitable for church-based small group studies.

“[Castro] nor anyone can use exposure to pornography or their own sexual abuse as a child or as an adult as an excuse for why they have committed their own crimes, because we all have that choice,” Hughes said. “And a lot of people have had a lot of really bad things happen to them and they’re pillars of society. They did not go down these paths that this man did.”

Crimes such as Castro’s could happen in many major cities, Hughes said on an Aug. 1 Culture Shock Radio broadcast.

“I think it can be repeated in most major cities and ... certainly we know that when kids go missing ... typically they will be killed within the first 24 hours. We know this through the Amber Alerts, but we’re seeing just horrible cases, even with dating violence, and deviant kinds of things that are going on with our young people,” Hughes said on the broadcast. “You can bet ... that we’re seeing, fueling that, pornography and how it’s fueling really deviant behavior.”

Castro is not only sick but evil, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Castro’s evil should cause Christians to thank God for His restraints against the pervasiveness of evil in society, Mohler wrote on his blog, AlbertMohler.com, Aug. 2.

“Christians must thank God for the restraint against evil that He has given humanity. These restraints include the moral law, the human conscience, government, social structures and the providence of God in human affairs,” Mohler wrote. “Without the moral law and the restraining power of the human conscience, we would all become sociopaths – in a hurry.”

Castro’s crimes have renewed a focus on safety, said North American Mission Board church planter Dan Ghramm, who organized in 2009 Gateway Church West in western Cleveland, less than five miles from Castro’s kidnapping scenes.

“That issue [of safety] has been brought up quite often,” Ghramm told Baptist Press. “Some of the kidnappings were literally only three, four or five miles from our house.

“There’s a constant kind of depressing feel to Cleveland, and so this has added to that,” Ghramm said. “We kind of use the phrase often that ... Cleveland could use some good news, so we’re trying to bring the best news of all” with the gospel, Ghramm said.

While Knight described her ordeal as hell and said hell awaits Castro in prison, Mohler reminded Christians of the hell of eternal damnation.

“Prison is where sociopaths often belong, and surely Castro fits in that category. But hell is where all sinners are justly headed, but for the salvation that is found only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Mohler wrote. “We should not be surprised that the secular world confuses sinners and sociopaths, prison and hell. Christians, however, must understand the differences.

“One need not be a monster, by human definition, to go to hell. The sinfulness of ‘normal’ humanity is quite enough for that. But there are monsters among us, and Ariel Castro’s crimes and his lack of moral understanding put him in that category as well.”

Knight, the only one of the victims to testify at Castro’s sentencing hearing, accused Castro of hypocrisy.

“What does God think of you hypocritically going to church each Sunday and then coming home to torture us?” she said. “The death penalty would be the easy way out. You don’t deserve that. We want you to spend the rest of your life in prison.”

Enough Is Enough is a nonprofit outreach incorporating technology and the law in efforts to make the Internet safer for children and their families. Internet Safety 101 is the group’s educational arm. Hughes directed readers to enough.org and InternetSafety101.org for information on pornography’s consequences.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.) 
8/5/2013 11:38:20 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Survey studies Baptists’ use of social media

August 2 2013 by BSC

A social media survey is being conducted by the Communications Committee of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) Board of Directors.
 
This study will help the BSC better understand social media usage among North Carolina Baptists, and more effectively communicate with our local churches.
 
Social media has become a vital communication tool, and a recent study indicates that social media has also become a valuable tool for sharing the gospel and praying for people.
 
Our goal is to discover how you are using social media and to then improve the Convention’s use of this tool.
 
All North Carolina Baptists are invited to participate. The deadline to complete the survey is Aug. 31.
 
Visit http://www.ncbaptist.org/survey.
8/2/2013 2:23:43 PM by BSC | with 0 comments



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