August 2014

Naghmeh Abedini: We pray to see God move

August 25 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

In January, Saeed Abedini faced deteriorating medical conditions while detained in one of the deadliest prisons in Iran, Rajai Shahr Prison. Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), warned that while the political prisoner ward should be safer for Abedini than the murderer ward, authorities have placed two violent criminals in the political ward who “consistently threaten any semblance of peace.”

 
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BP photo
Naghmeh Abedini has requested believers to join together to pray for her husband, Saeed, as well as the persecuted church. There are several North Carolina locations to join in prayer.

Since Saeed’s transfer, the threats have not ceased. With the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in early June, the ACLJ reported that Saeed had received death threats from ISIS terrorists in the same prison.
 
Saeed told family members that he is being held in the same ward as members of ISIS – the Sunni extremist group that has murdered Christians and other religious minorities in its conquest of Iraq and Syria.
 
Naghmeh Abedini – Saeed’s wife – and their children have not been allowed to speak with Saeed since he was arrested but have communicated through his family in Iran, who are permitted to visit him.
Those family members said Saeed has been told through other prisoners that the ISIS inmates intend to murder him because of his Christian faith.
 
Naghmeh has invited Christians to join her by participating in prayer vigils across the world on Sept. 26 – the anniversary of Saeed’s imprisonment.
 
In a promotional video for the vigil, Naghmeh said, “I am doing a prayer vigil on this day to remember pastor Saeed and others who are in prison for Christ, but also as a chance to come together as the Body of Christ and to see the move of God as we pray together.”
 
Saeed Abedini is a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, and he was sentenced in early 2013 to eight years in prison for his involvement in Iran’s house church movement. Saeed used to live in Iran and was a leader of house churches before moving to America in 2005. He was arrested approximately two years ago while on a trip to build an orphanage in the city of Rasht.
 
Though the Iranian constitution officially recognizes Christianity as a minority religion, Christian converts from Islam have suffered brutal persecution at the hands of Muslim authorities.
 
Saeed previously expressed that he received great encouragement from knowing that his chains have united the body of Christ in prayer. To join others in praying for him and the persecuted church, go to beheardproject.com/prayer-vigil/saeed.
 
To register your vigil and receive information on coordinating a vigil, email globalvigil2014@gmail.com.

8/25/2014 2:49:04 PM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Mark Driscoll to step down while Mars Hill reviews charges

August 25 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Controversial Seattle megachurch founder Mark Driscoll will step down for at least six weeks while church leaders review formal charges lodged by a group of pastors that he abused his power.
 
The 43-year-old pastor has been under fire in recent months for plagiarism, inappropriate use of church funds and improper behavior toward subordinates.
 
Returning from vacation Sunday (Aug. 24), Driscoll addressed Mars Hill worship services through a pre-recorded message.
 
“I want to say to my Mars Hill family, past and present, I’m very sorry. I genuinely mean it,” Driscoll said in his address. “I’m very sorry for the times I’ve been angry, short or insensitive. I’m very sorry for anything I’ve done to distract from our mission by inviting criticism, controversy or negative media attention.”
 
Driscoll said he will not do any outside speaking for the foreseeable future and postpone the publication of his next book.

 
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Photo of his announcement courtesy of Mars Hill Church
Mark Driscoll has been an influential but edgy pastor within conservative evangelical circles for several years.

“I have begun meeting with a professional team of mature Christians who provide wise counsel to help further my personal development and maturity before God and men,” Driscoll told the congregation.
 
Mark DeMoss, an Atlanta public relations consultant and former adviser to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, has been brought in to work with the congregation.
 
DeMoss, who represented the late Jerry Falwell Sr. and now Franklin Graham, said he attended the services in Seattle today on his own expense as Driscoll’s friend.
 
“I think he’s a gifted, biblical communicator who has done effective church work in an unchurched part of the country,” DeMoss said. “I like him, I believe in him, and if I only worked with ministry leaders who were faultless, I would be out of business tonight.”
 
Warren Throckmorton, a Grove City College psychology professor who has been blogging details of the events surrounding the church’s turmoil, first posted an audio clip of Driscoll’s 13-minute message. Throckmorton said he is aware of other elders planning to resign or considering it.
 
“Storm clouds seem to be swirling around me more than ever in recent month, and I have given much thought and sought much counsel as to why that is and what to do about it,” Driscoll said. “Some have challenged various aspects of my personality and leadership style, and while some of these challenges seem unfair, I have no problem admitting I am deserving of some of these criticisms based my own past actions that I am genuinely sorry for.”
 
Respected preacher and author John Piper, who received some backlash for inviting Driscoll to his 2006 Desiring God conference, tweeted his reaction to this news.
 
Though he has long been controversial but popular for his unapologetic chauvinism, Driscoll faced increasing turmoil this past year within evangelical circles. A front-page story in The New York Times Saturday (Aug. 23), suggested that Driscoll’s empire was “imploding.”
 
“He was really important – in the Internet age, Mark Driscoll definitely built up the evangelical movement enormously,” Timothy Keller, the senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, told the Times. “But the brashness and the arrogance and the rudeness in personal relationships – which he himself has confessed repeatedly – was obvious to many from the earliest days, and he has definitely now disillusioned quite a lot of people.”
 
Mars Hill Church has claimed as many as 14,000 members at 15 locations across five states each Sunday.
 
Earlier this week, 21 former Mars Hill pastors filed charges against Driscoll, saying that he has engaged in a pattern of abusive and intimidating conduct and has not changed.
 
“God is not honored by conflict, strife, disunity, arguing, slander, gossip, or anything else that is inconsistent with the fruit of the spirit, and I am deeply sorry, genuinely sorry, for the times I have not lived peaceably with all men,” Driscoll said.
 
Mars Hill also canceled its fall Resurgence Conference, which was to feature recently resigned board members Paul Tripp and James MacDonald as speakers. Driscoll was removed as closing speaker at an October church conference in Dallas and stricken from the speaker list at a series of four Christian “Act Like Men” conferences.
 
DeMoss, who also helped MacDonald during a theological controversy a few years ago, declined to comment on the criticism Driscoll has faced from other fellow evangelical pastors.
 
Earlier this month, Driscoll was removed from Acts 29, a church-planting network of more than 500 churches he helped found, after board members said they found a pattern of “ungodly and disqualifying behavior.”
 
“Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help,” board members told Driscoll.
 
Driscoll recently admitted to and apologized for comments he made under the pseudonym “William Wallace II” where he posted statements critical of feminism, homosexuality and “sensitive emasculated” men. He noted those comments again in his address on Sunday.
 
“I have acknowledged and confessed many of my sins and shortcomings and missteps and God has been more than faithful with his forgiveness,” he said.
 
He has been provocative, occasionally profane, and has faced more recent allegations of plagiarism and inflating his book sales. “Mistakes were made that I am grieved by and apologize for,” he said late last year of plagiarism charges. He also apologized in March, saying “my angry-young-prophet days are over.”
 
After Acts 29 removed Driscoll from its membership, LifeWay Christian Resources, the nation’s second largest Christian book retailer, pulled Driscoll’s books from its website and 186 stores.
 
Driscoll, who came into evangelical prominence as multi-site churches and podcasts were becoming more popular, noted one of the paradoxes of being a pastor in a media age.
 
“The same media channels that can be used to carry a sermon to virtually anyone around the world, can be used by anyone around the globe to criticize, attack or slander,” Driscoll said. “However, another part of it is simply my fault and I will own it, confess it and move on from it as God continues to redeem me.”
 
DeMoss echoed Driscoll’s comments.
 
“I think this is a challenging day for all pastors, in large part because of this media age we live in,” DeMoss said. “It’s very easy to mobilize opposition, and anybody can have a public forum to criticize or expose or say whatever they want to say. That wasn’t true even 10 years ago.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS as a national correspondent in 2013. She has previously served as managing editor of Odyssey Networks and online editor for Christianity Today.)

8/25/2014 8:50:20 AM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



ERLC: Latest HHS rules fail again

August 25 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Updated Aug. 26, 2014

The Obama administration has issued new rules regarding its abortion/contraception mandate but again appears to have failed to satisfy the concerns of religious freedom advocates.
 
A division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Friday (Aug. 22) the latest revision of the controversial regulations, which require employers to provide for their workers not only contraceptives but drugs and devices that can potentially cause abortions. It is the eighth revision of the rules, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

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ERLC Logo

 

In a fact sheet accompanying the new regulations, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said the rules provide a new option for notification by non-profit religious organizations that object to the mandate. The non-profit may notify HHS in writing of its religious objection. In response, the federal government will notify the insurer or a third-party administrator it is responsible for providing employees of the non-profit with payments to cover the services.
 
CMS’ fact sheet also says proposed rules have been published to expand an accommodation for “closely held,” for-profit companies, such as family-owned businesses. The two approaches for defining such an entity that has a religious objection are described this way in the fact sheet: “Under one approach, the entity could not be publicly traded, and ownership of the entity would be limited to a certain number of owners. Under an alternative approach, the entity could not be publicly traded, and a minimum percentage of ownership would be concentrated among a certain number of owners.”
 
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) was among the organizations that found the latest HHS revision unsatisfactory.
 
“Here we go again,” ERLC President Russell D. Moore said in a written statement. “What we see here is another revised attempt to settle issues of religious conscience with accounting maneuvers. This new policy doesn’t get at the primary problem. The administration is setting itself up as a mediator between God and the conscience on the question of the taking of innocent human life.”

In an analysis, the ERLC said the administration "still falls short of understanding the concerns surrounding religious liberty."
 

"The government has resorted to shuffling paperwork, not ceasing its conscience-paving ways," analysis coauthors Barrett Duke and Andrew Walker wrote. Duke is the ERLC's vice president for public policy and research. Walker is the entity's director of policy studies.

"Essentially, the administration has set itself up as the grand inquisitor, determining who is religious enough to merit the government's benevolence and who is not," Duke and Walker said in the analysis.

"The rule reveals the administration remains committed to advancing sexual liberty over First Amendment protected religious liberty."

Others who have called for conscience protections for employers also expressed dissatisfaction with the latest rules:

• Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., co-chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, called the revision "a direct, obnoxious, unprecedented government attack" on conscience rights. "Rather than protecting the religious freedom and deeply held beliefs of nuns, monks, Christian colleges and charities, today's announcement just establishes another bogus procedure designed to force people of faith to violate their religious beliefs...," Smith said.

Arina Grossu, director for the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council, said the revision "is simply another clerical layer to an already existing accounting gimmick that does nothing to protect religious freedom because the employer still remains the legal gateway by which these drugs and services will be provided to their employees."

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said after an initial review the conference is disappointed "the regulations would not broaden the 'religious employer' exemption to encompass all employers with sincerely held religious objections to the mandate."

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – two organizations representing entities that have challenged the mandate in court – said they would review the regulations with their clients. They did not express any fondness for the new rules, however.


Gregory Baylor, senior counsel for ADF, said the administration "has failed to extend its existing religious exemption to the religious owners of family businesses and to religious non-profits other than churches. That would have been the best way of respecting freedom for everyone."

The administration also announced Aug. 22 guidelines seeking comment on an accommodation for "closely held," for-profit companies, such as family owned businesses. The rules offer two approaches for defining such an entity with a religious objection. The first would be a business in which "none of the ownership interests in the entity is publicly traded and where the entity has fewer than a specified number of shareholders or owners." The second would be an entity in which "the ownership interests are not publicly traded, and in which a specified fraction of the ownership interest is concentrated in a limited and specified number of owners."

HHS acknowledged both rules were issued in response to Supreme Court decisions this summer. The revision regarding non-profits came in light of the high court's July order blocking enforcement of the mandate against Wheaton College, a Christian school in suburban Chicago, until the appeal process is complete. The justices' order said the school – and, by likely extension, other objectors – need only inform HHS it is a religious non-profit with religious objections and not fill out the form required by the government.

The rules regarding "closely held" for-profits followed the Supreme Court's June opinion in favor of the religious liberty rights of Hobby Lobby and other family owned businesses. The new proposals regarding for-profits would "effectively reduce, rather than expand, the scope of religious freedom" provided by the Supreme Court, according to the USCCB.

The abortion/contraception mandate, which was part of the implementation of the 2010 health-care law, requires coverage of such drugs as Plan B and other "morning-after" pills that possess a post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers "ella," which -- in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of a child.

HHS has provided an exemption to the mandate for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, non-profit organizations and for-profit companies that object.

Nearly 320 parties – some non-profits and some for-profits – have combined to file 102 lawsuits against HHS, according to the Becket Fund, which has led the diverse effort challenging the mandate.

Moore added, “When it comes to these contentious issues I don’t necessarily expect those who disagree with us to ask, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ But, in this case, asking ‘What Would Jefferson Do?’ would be a good start.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

8/25/2014 8:41:32 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



How Brantly survived Ebola: medical care and prayer

August 22 2014 by Liz Szabo, USA Today/RNS

An American doctor treated for Ebola, Kent Brantly, was discharged from Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital Thursday (Aug. 21). Another American aid worker, Nancy Writebol, was discharged Tuesday (Aug. 19).
 
“God saved my life,” said Brantly, looking gaunt, at a press conference Thursday, at which the room applauded his appearance. He thanked his medical team and the millions of people around the world praying for his recovery. “Please do not stop praying for the people of West Africa.”
 
Bruce Ribner, medical director of the hospital’s infectious disease unit, said Brantly will go to an undisclosed location with his wife and children after the press conference.
 
Brantly and Writebol, a volunteer with SIM USA, were flown to Emory from West Africa in early August and were treated in the hospital’s specialized unit.
 
Ribner said the hospital performed extensive blood and urine tests on both patients and consulted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before deciding the two missionaries were ready to be released. Neither poses any risk to the public, he said. Five doctors and 21 nurses cared for Brantly and Writebol during their stay.

 
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Photo courtesy Samaritan's Purse
Kent Brantly of Samaritan’s Purse, right, gives orders for medication to administer to the Ebola patients through the doorway of the isolation unit in Liberia. Dr. Brantly spent almost four hours in a Tyvek suit in order to care for the three patients in the unit.

In his statement, Brantly said his family arrived in Liberia last November and he saw his first Ebola patient in June. “We took every precaution to protect ourselves from this dreaded disease,” Brantly said.
 
On July 23, just a few days after sending his family home, however, Brantly said he woke up feeling sick, and soon learned that he was infected.
 
Writebol chose not to make a statement. However, Brantly related that, as she left her isolation unit, she said, “To God be the glory.”
 
Ribner said he hopes what he and his colleagues learned about treating Ebola can help save other patients in Africa.
 
While in Liberia, Brantly received a blood transfusion from an Ebola survivor.
 
Both Brantly and Writebol received doses of an experimental drug, called Zmapp, which includes man-made antibodies against Ebola. Although Zmapp has shown promise in animals, it has not yet been tested in humans. Experts have said it’s not possible to conclude that Zmapp cured their disease, although getting good supportive care at Emory, one of the world’s best hospitals, likely improved their chances of survival.
 
“If the question is, ‘Did Zmapp do this?’ The answer is that we just don’t know,” says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. “People who are in much less sophisticated medical care conditions in West Africa are recovering 50 percent of the time.”
 
Without a carefully designed trial — involving a comparison group that doesn’t receive the drug — doctors can’t make conclusions about how a treatment works. About half of Ebola patients in the current outbreak are surviving without the experimental drug. But a Spanish priest who received Zmapp died, Fauci says.
 
Three Liberian health workers also received Zmapp. The drug’s manufacturer, Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego, has said there is no more of the drug left.
 
According to CNN, two blood tests done over a two-day period had to come back negative for Ebola before Brantly could be discharged. David Writebol, Nancy’s husband, was released from quarantine earlier this week. Doctors had observed him for three weeks, monitoring him for signs of fever. Ebola can have an incubation period of up to 21 days.
 
People generally aren’t considered contagious unless they have symptoms of Ebola, such as fever.
 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sent at least 50 staff to West Africa to help contain the epidemic.
 
“We must re-commit to doing all we can to increase their chances of survival and to stop the spread of Ebola,” said CDC director Thomas Frieden in a statement. “This outbreak is unprecedented, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. We must respond in unprecedented way to stop the outbreak as soon as possible.”
 
In concluding his statement, Brantly said he is “glad for any attention my sickness has attracted to the plight of West Africa in the midst of this epidemic. Please continue to pray for Liberia and the people of West Africa, and encourage those in positions of leadership and influence to do everything possible to bring this Ebola outbreak to an end.
 
Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian humanitarian organization for which Brantly works, released this statement from its president, Franklin Graham, Thursday (Aug. 21):
 
“Today I join all of our Samaritan’s Purse team around the world in giving thanks to God as we celebrate Dr. Kent Brantly’s recovery from Ebola and release from the hospital. Over the past few weeks, I have marveled at Dr. Brantly’s courageous spirit as he has fought this horrible virus with the help of the highly competent and caring staff at Emory University Hospital. His faithfulness to God and compassion for the people of Africa have been an example to us all.
 
“I know that Dr. Brantly and his wonderful family would ask that you please remember and pray for those in Africa battling, treating and suffering from Ebola. Those who have given up the comforts of home to serve the suffering and the less fortunate are in many ways just beginning this battle.
 
“We have more than 350 staff in Liberia, and others will soon be joining them, so please pray for those who have served with Dr. Brantly – along with the other doctors, aid workers and organizations that are at this very moment desperately trying to stop Ebola from taking any more lives.”
 

Related Stories:

Ebola missionary points to faith in Christ after release
History demonstrates how American Christians should respond to the Ebola crisis

8/22/2014 11:19:14 AM by Liz Szabo, USA Today/RNS | with 0 comments



Reign of terror must be stopped, Moore says

August 22 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The United States possesses a distinctive duty in Iraq to combat the reign of terror by an Islamist army and needs discernment on how to do so, the Southern Baptist Convention’s lead ethicist has said.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, offered his analysis two days after the beheading of American journalist James Foley. A video of Foley’s execution by an unidentified soldier of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was posted on social media.

America cannot take a hands-off approach, Moore said of terrorist violence and genocide in a country the United States helped liberate from dictator Saddam Hussein more than a decade ago.

“When it comes to the slaughter in Iraq, we cannot show moral indifference,” Moore told Baptist Press in a written statement. “This is both a humanitarian catastrophe and a national security emergency, and nearly everyone agrees that America bears a special responsibility – Iraq War hawks will say it is because we failed to finish the job, and Iraq War doves will say it is because our action plunged the nation into chaos in a misguided war. This is an important debate to have, but not now.

“Instead, what is needed now are neither hawks, nor doves, but owls – with the talons to fight injustice and the wisdom to know when to start, and when to stop,” said Moore, who already had endorsed strong action by the United States to eliminate the ISIS threat.

His comments came as ISIS continued its efforts to establish a militant Islamic state encompassing Iraq and Syria. The terrorists have taken over significant portions of Iraq, where more than 4,400 U.S. service members died between 2003 and 2012. The Sunni Muslim militants that largely make up ISIS have executed or driven from their homes many Christians, Yazidis and others, especially in the northern part of the Middle Eastern country. ISIS also has threatened to attack the United States.
 

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A video posted to social media earlier this week showed the beheading of American journalist James Foley by an ISIS jihadist.

American airstrikes authorized by President Obama against ISIS continued Aug. 20. U.S. jets and drones performed 14 strikes near the Mosul Dam, the Pentagon reported. The toll included six ISIS Humvees and two armed trucks. The United States confirmed Aug. 18 that the Iraqi military had retaken the dam in northern Iraq after its capture by the terrorists. The U.S. has conducted 84 airstrikes since Obama authorized such military action Aug. 7.

The president reacted to Foley’s Aug. 19 beheading by condemning ISIS and promising the United States would do what is necessary to protect its citizens. He described Foley’s killing as a violent act “that shocks the conscience of the entire world.”

Describing ISIS as a “cancer,” Obama said the terrorist group “speaks for no religion.”

“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday, and for what they do every single day,” the president said Aug. 20. ISIS “has no ideology of any value to human beings. Their ideology is bankrupt.”

He added, “One thing we can all agree on is that a group like [ISIS] has no place in the 21st century.”

Foley, 40, was a freelance journalist for GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse when he was taken captive nearly two years ago in Syria. ISIS initially demanded a ransom from Foley’s family and GlobalPost of $132.5 million, the online news site reported to The Wall Street Journal.

In the video of Foley’s execution, the ISIS solider showed another American – Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist for Time magazine – and threatened his life. The Journal reported that about 20 journalists, many in the captivity of ISIS, are thought to be missing in Syria, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Associated Press condemned Foley’s execution.

“The murder of a journalist with impunity is a threat to a free press and democracy around the world,” AP President Gary Pruitt said in a written statement.

The United States attempted to rescue Foley and other Americans from ISIS recently, but the hostages were not at the site targeted by the operation, the Department of Defense announced Aug. 20.

“We put the best of the United States military in harms’ way to try and bring our citizens home,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said of the rescue operation in a written release, adding, “The United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will work tirelessly to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable.”

The State Department has asked the Pentagon to send 300 more military service members to protect Americans in the Baghdad area, the Journal reported. The U.S. has about 900 military personnel already in Iraq for security and planning purposes.

Moore joined others in an open letter released Aug. 11 that called for the destruction of ISIS as a military force. The letter – initiated by Robert George, a professor at Princeton University and vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – urged the United States and the international community to do what is necessary to enable local forces to protect Christians and minorities from the genocidal purge being conducted by ISIS.

“No options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table,” George, Moore and others wrote in the letter. “We further believe that the United States’ goal must be more comprehensive than simply clamping a short-term lid on the boiling violence that is threatening so many innocents in [ISIS’] path. Nothing short of the destruction of [ISIS] as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

8/22/2014 10:10:16 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Ebola missionary points to faith in Christ after release

August 22 2014 by Baptist Press/LifeWay Christian Resources

Both Christian missionaries who contracted the Ebola virus while ministering to patients in Liberia have been released from an Atlanta hospital.

Kent Brantly, 33, was released Thursday (Aug 21). The Samaritan’s Purse doctor said at a news conference, “Today is a miraculous day. I am thrilled to be alive, to be well and to be reunited with my family.”

Nancy Writebol, 59, has not spoken to reporters since being released two days earlier. Media representatives are being told the SIM (Serving in Mission) missionary is spending private time with her family including her two sons, Jeremy and Brian Writebol.

Ed Stetzer, vice president of LifeWay Research, interviewed both sons about their mother’s ordeal and how her Christian faith has played a role in her recovery.

Following are excerpts from that interview.


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David and Nancy Writebol

Why was your mother in Africa?

Jeremy: Mom and Dad have been career missionaries for the last 15 years in various countries in South America and Africa. About a year ago they joined SIM to go to Liberia to serve the Liberian people through the several ministries. Mom coordinated hospitality for incoming short and long-term missionaries as well as assisted as a nurse’s assistant at the hospital. Mom and Dad have always wanted to use their lives to serve Christ and help those in need in whatever way they could.

What was your reaction when you heard your mother had Ebola?

Jeremy: Devastated. With mortality rates of 65-90 percent of infected patients I knew the statistical odds of her survival were not good. Add to that the way in which a person dies from the virus it can be one of the most terrible ways to die. When we heard mom had the virus I could only imagine the worst.

Does your mom regret going to Africa and fighting the virus?

Brian: No, I don’t sense any regret in going to Liberia or following what they (my parents) are called to do.

Do YOU regret that she went over to Africa to fight Ebola?

Jeremy: No. We know Mom and Dad’s motivation for going was to serve and glorify Christ. There are always costs associated with that call. We’ve read and been familiar with missionary biographies in our house for a very long time. Christians go, they suffer, some die, and that’s part of the call.

Brian: And, we know they have a heart to serve, a heart for Africa, and they were using that Christ-like love in glorifying the Lord.

What do you want to come from this?

Jeremy: The perspective we hope others will gain is that in suffering there is hope, namely Jesus himself. Often we are tempted to think “why me” when suffering comes about, and unless we see it in the larger picture of God’s glory and the unfolding and revealing of his character and nature to the world, we will miss the joy that it is to be part of God’s great story.

Brian: I would like those who look into our lives through this time to see Christ and see He alone is our refuge in trying times. This “strong tower” comes in the form of prayer, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit providing comfort and peace in our hearts in the darkest moments. Through this peace we are able to worship and glorify Him no matter the outcome.

How has this affected her faith?

Brian: In conversations with Mom I’ve picked up a sense that she has a deeper understanding of Christ’s sufficiency in all circumstances. He really is able to give peace and comfort when we have nowhere else to turn.

One national commentator criticized Dr. Brantly for going to Africa instead of ministering in America. How do you respond?

Jeremy: The gospel isn’t just for one nation, or one people group. Jesus called us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). This requires that people leave their own culture and context and cross cultures to go and make disciples. Yes that can be done in the United States, and should be, but it isn’t an either/or command. We are all called to make disciples, some are called to stay within their own culture, some are called to go to faraway places. For my parents and the Brantlys that call was to go to Liberia.

Is there anything you believe your mother would want to convey?

Jeremy: Mom’s statement to me over and over again is that she didn’t want all this attention drawn to herself. She wanted to quietly and anonymously serve Christ in Africa. But in light of all the attention she continues to say to me, “I want Christ to be glorified. I want His name to be made famous.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ed Stetzer is executive director of LifeWay Research.)
 

Related Stories:

How Brantly survived Ebola: medical care and prayer
History demonstrates how American Christians should respond to the Ebola crisis
8/22/2014 9:40:23 AM by Baptist Press/LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments



Mitchell named Union's chief academic officer

August 22 2014 by Baptist Press

C. Ben Mitchell, a leading bioethics expert within the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond, has been named as Union University's provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Union President Samuel W. "Dub" Oliver placed Mitchell in the official capacity Aug. 18 after having selected him in an interim role at the Baptist-affiliated university in Jackson, Tenn., in early June.

Oliver said Mitchell brings a background of scholarship, classroom teaching experience and public policy expertise as Union's new chief academic officer.

Mitchell is "an excellent scholar and teacher who embodies our core values and Christ-centered mission at Union," Oliver said. "His leadership during these past two months has advanced our work tremendously, and I am thrilled that he will be a significant part of shaping our work together in the months and years ahead."

Mitchell joined Union's faculty in 2009. He formerly served as the bioethics consultant for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in the mid-1990s, continuing as an ERLC consultant since; associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Illinois and director of its Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity; co-director for biotechnology policy as a fellow with the Council for Biotechnology Policy in Washington, D.C.; and assistant professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

He will continue as editor of “Ethics & Medicine: An International Journal of Bioethics” and as Union's Graves professor of moral philosophy.

Mitchell holds a doctorate in philosophy with a concentration in medical ethics from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and a bachelor of science degree from Mississippi State University.

As one of the most respected ethicists in evangelical life, Mitchell has been published and quoted in Baptist Press and in such major news media as the Washington Post, Fox News, National Public Radio and MSNBC. He has given testimonies before panels in the U.S. House of Representatives and other policy groups, including 2012 testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in opposition to the government's abortifacient mandate in the new health care law.

His most recent book, Ethics & Moral Reasoning: A Student's Guide (Crossway), was released last year and his co-authored volume, Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families (B&H Publishing Group) with D. Joy Riley, MD, is scheduled for release in December. He was the co-author of Does God Need Our Help? Cloning, Assisted Suicide, and Other Challenges in Bioethics, Aging, Death, and the Quest for Immortality and Biotechnology and the Human Good and of chapters in more than two-dozen other books.

A native of Tampa, Fla., Mitchell also has more than a dozen years of pastoral experience in churches in Mississippi, Kentucky, Texas and Tennessee. He and his wife Nancy have been married for 39 years.

"Union University consists of some extraordinary leaders, including our new president, Dub Oliver," Mitchell said. "I am especially grateful to assist Dr. Oliver as we seek to take Union to the next level of excellence as a Great Commandment and Great Commission institution."

Union also has named Tim Ellsworth as associate vice president for university communications. Ellsworth had served Union for nearly a decade in the university communications office as director of media relations but had recently left that position for a full-time faculty role at the university this fall. Ellsworth now assumes a new leadership role in his former office.

Ellsworth is an Illinois native who previously was associate editor of the Illinois Baptist. He is the author of "God in the Whirlwind," a book that recounts the 2008 tornado that struck the Union campus, and co-author of Pujols: More Than the Game, about Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols. Ellsworth has been sports editor for Baptist Press for several years, covering such events as the Olympics and the Super Bowl. He and his wife Sarah have three children.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the communications office of Union University.)

8/22/2014 9:32:08 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Flooding, other challenges draw Baptist relief

August 21 2014 by Joe Conway, NAMB/Baptist Press

Massive flooding in Michigan affecting tens of thousands of homes and businesses has opened the door for ministry by Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers.

The three-county area around Warren, Mich., has been described by some as the nation’s largest natural disaster that few people have heard about, largely because of other national and international headlines that have overshadowed it in recent days.

Baptist State Convention of Michigan Disaster Relief director Wynn Williams said he expects the relief work to last for weeks. Assessments are ongoing, but more than 450 job requests have already been recorded for homes inundated with water from slow moving rain storms Aug. 11.

“There are 40,000 affected homes in Oakland County alone,” Williams said. “There are another 30,000 to 40,000 damaged homes in Wayne County and then all the work in McComb County. There was as much as 15 feet of water over some of the expressways. Homes have damage from anywhere from a few inches to several feet of floodwater.”

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) has dispatched a mobile command unit to help coordinate the response. Eddie Blackmon, NAMB SBDR coordinator, is assisting Williams in organizing the effort.

“This is the highest number of affected homes I have seen in a single response in the 15 years I have been working with SBDR,” Blackmon said. “We are going to need a lot of help.”


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NAMB photo by John Swain
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers are responding to massive flooding in Michigan that has affected tens of thousands of homes and businesses. Baptist State Convention of Michigan Disaster Relief director Wynn Williams said he expects the work in response to the flooding to last for weeks. The North American Mission Board has dispatched a mobile command unit to help coordinate the response.  

Fritz Wilson, executive director for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) with NAMB, said the scope of the flooding, and the size of the response needed, have received little media attention so far.

“The spiritual opportunity in Michigan calls for the kind of committed response Southern Baptists are known for in bringing help, healing and hope in the midst of crises,” Wilson said. “God has been orchestrating circumstances in and around Detroit for more than a year. We need to respond to this opportunity to serve.”

And SBDR volunteers are serving in Ferguson, Mo., too. Missouri Baptist Convention SBDR director Dwaine Carter said volunteers have assisted with clean up each day in Ferguson following the riots and racial tension that have erupted there since Aug. 9.

Meanwhile SBDR volunteers are engaged in active responses in Colorado, Hawaii, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Washington, and in rebuild efforts in New York and New Jersey.

Cleanup work continues in response to record wild fires in Washington in the Carlton Complex fire, which claimed more than 350 homes, and two other major fires. Northwest Baptist Convention regional SBDR coordinator Paul Henry reported 52 ash-out projects have already been completed.

“We have volunteers from the Northwest convention, Utah/Idaho and California actively working now,” Henry said. “We are expecting teams from California, the Southern Baptists of Texas and Texas Baptist Men to arrive soon to continue the work.”

Hawaii-Pacific Baptist Convention volunteers have been assisting residents in the Keaau area southeast of Hilo. The area suffered heavy wind damage from Hurricane Iselle.

“There are a lot of fallen trees,” Hawaii SBDR coordinator Darrell McCain said. “There are still about 1,000 homes without power in the area. We are expecting a chainsaw team from California this week to help with tree removal.”

Wilson described the immediate response of SBDR volunteers in states like Hawaii and Washington as an impressive display of the growing SBDR network.

“I want to commend the service and great leadership of Darrel and the other leaders,” he said. “Our volunteers are serving where there is great need and great opportunity to share the gospel.”

Those wishing to donate to SBDR relief can contact the Baptist convention in their state or click here. For phone donations, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state Disaster Relief ministries.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers – including chaplains – and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, child care, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained Disaster Relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board.)

8/21/2014 11:11:49 AM by Joe Conway, NAMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Tilt toward gay marriage hits hiccup

August 21 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist public policy specialists have welcomed a rare court decision out of step with the same-sex marriage juggernaut while reaffirming the need for an ongoing defense of the God-ordained institution.

A Tennessee county judge ruled the state has the authority to limit marriage to a man and a woman, setting forth an exception to more than three dozen rulings in the last 14 months in favor of same-sex marriage. Russell Simmons, circuit court judge in Roane County, ruled Aug. 5 that a Tennessee law barring recognition of gay marriages from other states does not violate the U.S. Constitution.

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), applauded Simmons’ uncommon opinion.

“Courts around the country seem determined to try to impose a redefinition of marriage, and I’m happy to see one court decision that refuses to try and will into existence constitutional planks by force of its own will,” Moore said in a statement for Baptist Press.

The ruling came as the issue moves forward in the federal court system. Two federal appeals courts already have upheld the invalidation of state laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples, and other decisions at the appellate level are forthcoming. Those repudiations of laws in Virginia by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and in Oklahoma and Utah by the 10th Circuit have been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could review those opinions or others and issue a ruling in its next term, which begins in October.


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Russell Moore

In the Virginia case, the Supreme Court Aug. 20 stayed the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, which was scheduled to go into effect Aug. 21. The high court’s stay prevents the issuing of marriage licenses in the state to same-sex couples until the appeals process is completed.

Simmons, in his ruling, wrote that marriage is a “fundamental right” but noted, “The battle is not between whether or not marriage is a fundamental right but what unions are included in the definition of marriage. The Legislative Branch of Tennessee and the voters of Tennessee have said that the definition of marriage should be as it always has been. That man’s best definition of marriage will always be the union of one man and one woman.”

Andrew Walker, the ERLC’s director of policy studies, said Simmons was right to conclude “the debate Americans are having on marriage is about marriage’s substance and definition – not whether traditional and biblical understandings of marriage are somehow now exclusionary because of evolving moral norms.”

“That’s what the heart of this debate really is: What is marriage?” Walker said. “Marriage either is something or it isn’t. What Judge Simmons’ ruling allows is for citizens to decide this issue – not courts.”

It remains for Christians to defend God’s definition of marriage, Moore and Walker said.

“We contend for marriage because marriage was not created by a state or a court, and cannot be redefined by a state or court,” Moore said. “God designed the one-flesh union of marriage as an embedded icon of the union between Christ and His church, and sexual complementarity is essential to marriage.”

Walker told BP, “Marriage may be under threat in the court of public opinion, but Christians must remember that marriage remains timeless and indestructible, for our Lord Jesus said that marriage is ‘from the beginning.’ And in this context, He wasn’t referring to the ‘beginning’ of America or its Constitution, but of the cosmos.”

The tide of judicial opinions in favor of gay marriage began after a June 2013 Supreme Court decision that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violated “equal protection” under the Constitution by refusing to recognize gay marriages. The opinion meant same-sex couples gained access to employee, Social Security, tax and other benefits previously limited to heterosexual couples.

In neither of two decisions on same-sex marriage the same day did the justices say states could not limit marriage to a man and a woman. Many defenders of male-female marriage, however, have contended the Supreme Court provided the framework for legalizing gay marriage throughout the country.

Since June 2013, same-sex marriage advocates have won in court 37 times – three in federal appeals court, 21 in federal court and 13 in state court, according to Freedom to Marry, a leading advocate for the legalization of gay marriage. Several of those rulings have been stayed from enforcement while under appeal.

Before Simmons’ ruling in Tennessee, decisions by state judges in Mississippi and Florida were the only ones to conflict with the pro-gay marriage trend, according to SCOTUSblog, which tracks developments at the Supreme Court.

Same-sex marriage is legal already in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Among the states with legalized gay marriage are all those in the Northeast and on the West Coast.

A survey in March showed public opinion on same-sex marriage has essentially flipped in the last decade. That poll by The Washington Post and ABC News found 59 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, while 34 percent oppose it. In 2004, the same survey showed 38 percent favored legalizing gay marriage and 59 percent opposed it.

Simmons’ ruling came in the case of two men who were married in Iowa in 2010 but wanted a divorce in Roane County, which is in eastern Tennessee. State law, however, not only limits marriage to a man and a woman but refuses to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

The Supreme Court, even in invalidating part of DOMA, refused to stipulate that a state must recognize same-sex marriage, Simmons wrote. The high court’s DOMA decision “is concerned with the definition of marriage, only as it applies to federal laws, and does not give an opinion concerning whether one State must accept as valid a same-sex marriage allowed in another State,” he wrote.

Ryan Anderson, who specializes in marriage and religious freedom issues for the Heritage Foundation, commended Simmons’ ruling in an Aug. 12 blog post.

“Our federal Constitution is silent on what marriage is,” Anderson wrote. “Judges should not insert their own policy preferences about marriage and declare them to be required by the Constitution. ... We do not need a court-imposed 50-state solution. The courts should not force states to abandon caution in the face of a social experiment like the redefinition of marriage.”

One federal appeals court also may be prepared to buck the judicial pattern. The Sixth Circuit Court in Cincinnati heard oral arguments Aug. 6 regarding laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee either restricting marriage to a man and a woman or refusing to recognize gay marriages from other states. Two members of the three-judge panel appeared reticent to strike down the laws, according to reports by The New York Times and The Washington Post.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

8/21/2014 11:02:55 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Ukraine’s cry for help & hope stirs U.S. churches to pray, go

August 21 2014 by Ava Thomas, IMB/Baptist Press

When Becky Dorman sees Ukraine in the news – the violence, the bombs, the downed aircraft – she thinks of Marina.

Dorman, a member at Graceland Baptist Church in New Albany, Ind., met the young Ukrainian woman in 2009 when Dorman’s mission team traveled to Ukraine. Marina was a translator for the team.

“I continue to pray for her, especially for her safety,” Dorman said. “Having never been to Ukraine before, she really took my heart.”

A number of churches in the United States have postponed or canceled their plans to do ministry in Ukraine this year because of the unrest. But Christian workers in that region of the world say there is still much that churches “back home” in the United States can do.

Tim Johnson,* an International Mission Board (IMB) representative in Ukraine, said the U.S. church has a “great role” in reaching out to Ukraine during these difficult times by creating awareness, continuing to pray and being a part of outreach efforts.
 

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“Those are great ways for the church to continue to support our Ukrainian brothers and sisters,” he said.

“It’s just hard when you know that there’s church-planting efforts going on, there’s desire to see new work take place, but at the same time there’s that cloud of fear that hangs in the air,” he said. “So we pray for that to dissipate and that we could have a chance to move forward with clear skies.”

Marina’s home is in the Luhansk region, a section of eastern Ukraine torn by conflict between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army. Her home couldn’t have been farther away from war – or from Dorman’s radar – a few years ago.

“I remember hearing our pastor say from the pulpit that we needed to have a people group on our heart, and I remember thinking that I didn’t even know what a people group was,” Dorman, who serves as worship ministry administrative assistant at Graceland Baptist Church, said.

Then Dorman’s daughter, a junior in college, announced she was going to Ukraine to serve for a summer.

Suddenly the needs in Ukraine came to life for Dorman.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I’ll have Ukrainians in my heart,” she said.

She did.

Since Dorman’s initial trip to Ukraine in 2009 she has been twice more. The church partners with Joel*, a former worship pastor of Graceland Baptist. He is co-director of the church-planting program at Kiev Theological Seminary. He served 35 years as worship pastor at Graceland Baptist before he and his wife Mary Ellen* began work with the International Mission Board in Ukraine in 2003.

Since then, he’s partnered with Graceland Baptist to link them with the church planters he trains.

Church planters include Sergei, who formed a deep connection with Dorman’s team.

“By being involved directly with the indigenous church planter, we know their vision and can work alongside them,” Dorman said. “Then when we leave, hopefully they don’t feel the Americans just came for a glorified vacation. They can make a stronger impact.”

In 2012, Sergei drove Dorman and her team into the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains where they met people with many physical needs and even greater spiritual ones.

She gave food to a hungry family, a hug to a wheelchair-bound girl – and she shared her hope in Christ with all of them.

“Every trip I made was just really impactful,” she said. “I was really brokenhearted we couldn’t go back this year.”

Though Graceland Baptist has been unable to send a team back to Ukraine this year, the crisis has opened new doors of ministry for other churches.

Among those congregations is Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. Following up their trip in 2013, the church sent another missions team this year to continue training and equipping ministry leaders in Ukraine.

“Yes, we watched news events and wondered if we should go,” John Herzer, a member of the Johnson Ferry team, said. “But ... we never felt unsafe in any of our travels. If anything, we found people appreciated us even more than in past years when there was no conflict.”

The team continued their equipping ministry, but they also touched the lives of those impacted by war, meeting urgent physical needs.

“This year we added the ministry of food distribution directed toward the poor, widows, handicapped children and refugees who fled from the conflict in Crimea,” Herzer said. He noted they handed out 500 boxes of basic staple foods in villages.

“In some villages they would gather in a group,” he said. “In other villages we would go door to door.”

With each village the method changed, but the team’s impressions of the people didn’t.

“When we visited refugees we realized how little we offered in providing food when they had left everything – their careers, their friends, their possessions,” Herzer said. “Yet they were so grateful that we took the time to care and allow them to share their stories. We truly saw how important the love of Christ is. We were blessed immeasurably.”

And they saw people decide to follow Christ.

One was the alcoholic son of a widow – a man who had never previously been open to the gospel.

“The pastor of the local church had shared Jesus with this man many times but he would not believe and trust in Jesus,” Herzer says. “Yet during our visit he did. ... He was in tears over the joy he experienced the moment he trusted Jesus.”

Herzer’s challenge to other churches: If you can go, go. If you can pray, pray.

“We can all participate,” Herzer said. “The bottom line is they all want to see the love of Christ. Because we went, we saw Jesus at work in the lives of everyone we [met].”

For more information about the crisis in Ukraine and how you can help, visit commissionstories.com/Eurasia.

*Name changed or last name withheld.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ava Thomas is an IMB writer/editor based in Europe.)
 

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8/21/2014 10:32:24 AM by Ava Thomas, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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