August 2014

LifeWay explores sale of 14.5-acre property

August 15 2014 by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press

LifeWay Christian Resources is exploring opportunities to better utilize its downtown Nashville corporate offices, which could mean the sale of some – or all – of the 14.5-acre property, Thom Rainer said in a letter to the organization’s staff.

LifeWay is working with a consulting firm to study the advantages and disadvantages of a possible sale, said Rainer, LifeWay’s president and CEO. About 1,100 of LifeWay’s employees work in the downtown corporate offices. The organization also oversees 186 stores and 4,300 employees in 29 states.

Acknowledging that LifeWay has been located in the Music City for more than 120 years, Rainer cited demand for property in the downtown area and fewer employees now working at its corporate offices as reasons for studying a possible sale.

“... It would be poor stewardship for the organization not to explore the possibilities this situation could present for our ministry,” Rainer, said in the Aug. 1 letter.

LifeWay, he said, could sell only a portion of its property. Or, it could sell all of its downtown campus and move outside the city, either into existing facilities or begin new construction. Rainer described the possibility of moving outside of middle Tennessee as “remote.”

“... My preference is that we stay in downtown Nashville,” Rainer said.

He noted the study is in its “very beginning stages.”

“I assure you absolutely no decisions have been made, other than our commitment to use all the resources the Lord has provided us to make the maximum impact on churches and the kingdom, now and in the future,” he said.

In the letter, Rainer addressed changes in the publishing industry and why more of LifeWay’s employees now work outside of Nashville than at its corporate offices.

“Our needs have changed,” he said. “We no longer print and package our resources on the first floor of the Operations Building and then put them on a conveyor belt running under Broadway to the U.S. Post Office.

“That post office building is now an art center, our printing is done all over the country, our assembly and shipping is centered in new facilities in Lebanon, [Tenn.], and [the Operations Building] sits mostly empty. We have been unable to even lease the space.”

While LifeWay leases unused office space in its Frost Building along with the adjacent parking lot, Rainer said, hundreds of offices on its campus remain vacant. LifeWay spokesman Marty King estimated nearly one third of the facility is vacant or leased.

King declined to speculate about the value of the property. The Tennessean newspaper estimated the value at “more than $80 million.” He noted one Nashville developer called the property “a homerun site.”

Rainer said, “We have a lot of history here, and a lot invested in our property... But, times change. The needs of our customers change. So, LifeWay changes.”

It could take several months or longer before a recommendation is made to LifeWay’s trustees, Rainer noted.

“But, we might decide not to do anything at this time,” he said. “There are so many factors to consider, we simply don’t know what the final outcome will be or even what some of the alternatives might be.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of Baptist Press.)

8/15/2014 11:13:57 AM by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

After teen’s death, Baptists pray & serve

August 15 2014 by Ben Hawkins, Baptist Press

Missouri Baptists gathered for prayer Aug. 13 before a fifth night of turbulent protests erupted over the shooting death of an African American teenager by a local police officer.

The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by an unnamed Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9 garnered national attention after the teenager’s death incited peaceful protests as well as several nights of upheaval in this St. Louis-area town.

During the night, looters broke windows, started fires and stole items from local stores. Racial tensions also came to the fore after Brown’s death partially because the Ferguson police force has only three African American officers in a community where two-thirds of the population is black.

Missouri Baptists in the area are responding to the tragedy through ministry, seeking to demonstrate reconciliation in Christ. First Baptist Church in Ferguson opened its doors on Aug. 13 for a citywide prayer service. The downtown church is located near the police station and a couple miles from the center of protests.

First Baptist pastor Stoney Shaw said residents of Ferguson were joined by Missouri Baptists from nearby towns in praying for peace and unity. Among other churches involved in the service were The Gate Church of University City and The Passage Church of Florissant.

The interracial prayer service exuded a spirit of reconciliation, with participants recognizing the need to love and understand one another, Shaw said.

Earlier in the week, First Baptist released a statement regarding Brown’s death and its aftermath.

“The pastors and members of the First Baptist Church of Ferguson wish to extend our heartfelt sympathy and prayerful support to the family and friends of Michael Brown, who tragically lost his life on Saturday,” the statement read. “We stand with the civic and religious leaders of our city in asking for calm and understanding from everyone impacted by this young man’s death. And we add our voices in calling for a complete, unbiased, thorough and transparent investigation concerning the events that led up to this tragic loss of precious life.

“For now, we pledge to pray diligently for everyone involved,” the statement continued. “We ask that everyone join us in praying for peace and unity as we go through this difficult time together. And we stand ready to assist our community in any way possible to bring peace in the wake of this horrible tragedy.”

The St. Louis Metro Baptist Association also organized an Aug. 13 prayer service hosted by Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in North St. Louis. They prayed for Brown’s family and for peace in Ferguson, director of missions Jim Breeden reported, and they prayed that God would empower local Christians to transform the greater St. Louis area with the gospel message.

Some Missouri Baptists have already displayed this message by helping to clean Ferguson storefronts that were damaged by looters in the aftermath of Brown’s shooting.

“We want people to know that heart-change comes through Jesus and through what He did on the cross,” said pastor Joe Costephens of the Passage Church in Florissant, who served in the cleaning project on the morning of Aug. 13 and participated in First Baptist Ferguson’s prayer service that evening.

“We know that in the end all things will be recreated, but in the meantime He has called us to be His hands and feet and to be agents of redemption. Through us, His Spirit will bring about change. … It is not what we do. It is what He does in His timing.”

The story about Brown’s death and its aftermath has drawn widespread media attention and comments from both state and national leaders as well as from some Southern Baptist entity heads.

Posting photos of the nightly unrest on Twitter, some media outlets have compared Ferguson’s situation to the present discord in the Middle East. The Dallas Morning News commented on the “militarization” of Ferguson’s police force and the Baltimore Sun reported that demonstrators in Baltimore have connected Brown’s death with the Trayvon Martin case in Florida.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama urged people to react to Brown’s death in “a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” And in Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon commented, “The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans.” Additionally, Missouri Speaker of the House Tim Jones expressed his condolence to the Brown family and his confidence that justice will be served.

“Everyone deserves a clear picture of what led to this situation,” Jones said, “and I am hopeful that the local and federal investigations will produce a transparent, complete picture of all the facts that led to this tragedy.”

Among Southern Baptist leaders who have commented on the unrest surrounding Brown’s death, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., called his listeners to avoid hasty judgments.

“This is one of those situations that, as the attorney general of the United States made clear, requires everyone to stand back and let law enforcement do its work,” Mohler said in his audio program, The Briefing, on Aug. 12. “At this point, we just need to follow the attorney general’s advice and stand back and let the law enforcement officials – especially now at the federal level – do their job.”

Additionally, noting that circumstances surrounding Brown’s death remain unclear, Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the tragedy brings to light “the myth of a ‘post-racial’ America.”

“The simmering tensions in this town, following the shooting of an unarmed teenager, ought to remind the body of Christ of our responsibility to model reconciliation in Christ,” Moore said. Christians should not only cry out against the evil of racism, he said, but also should display gospel-centered love and reconciliation in their congregations.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ben Hawkins is associate editor of The Pathway (, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.)

8/15/2014 11:05:01 AM by Ben Hawkins, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New think tank launched to help churches

August 15 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention's ethics entity has introduced a newly configured think tank to equip Christians and churches to address moral and cultural issues.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) announced Monday (Aug. 11) its new Research Institute made up of Southern Baptist scholars and leaders. The think tank is a newly designed version under the leadership of ERLC President Russell D. Moore of the previous Research Institute inaugurated by the ethics entity in 1999.

The Research Institute's purpose is to help the ERLC in its work by generating materials to help churches engage ethical and religious freedom issues. The ERLC's wide span of responsibilities includes homosexuality and same-sex marriage; abortion and other sanctity of life issues; domestic and international religious liberty; and race relations.

The institute's collection of 70 fellows in four categories includes representatives of all six SBC seminaries; various Southern Baptist colleges, state conventions and churches; public and Christian universities; and organizations such as the American Center for Law and Justice and the Heritage Foundation.


The Research Institute's purpose, Moore said, "is to be a catalyst to connect the agenda of the Gospel to the complex questions of the day -- and to do so at the highest levels of academic scholarship for the good of local congregations. I am thrilled to get to work together with an exceptionally gifted band of scholars and leaders as we seek to be a persuasive, prophetic witness engaging the academy and equipping the church."

Joining Moore as senior research fellows of the new institute are: Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; David Dockery, president of Trinity International University; Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University; Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary and ERLC president emeritus; Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary; R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Greg Thornbury, president of The King's College; Thomas White, president of Cedarville University; and David Whitlock, president of Oklahoma Baptist University.

The institute also has 32 research fellows, 10 research fellows in Christian ethics and 16 associate research fellows.

Barrett Duke, the ERLC's vice president for public policy and research, directs the Research Institute. Andrew Walker, the ERLC's director of policy studies, is the institute's associate director.

The new institute, Duke said in written comments for Baptist Press, "comes along at a crucial time for our churches. With our culture nearing crisis mode on many moral fronts, church leaders and laymen alike will be confronted with some challenges the church has not had to address since before the founding of this country. Other challenges are ones the church has never had to address before."

"Many of the finest thinkers and practitioners in Southern Baptist life have agreed to help us come alongside the church to offer biblically sound, culturally relevant, practical guidance for God's people as they work, witness, and love," Duke said.

Walker told BP in a written statement, "Southern Baptists have an arsenal of intellectual firepower at their disposal. The [institute] is primed to be a central bank of sorts, to organize and channel those resources in a direction that furthers intellectual reflection, while aimed at resourcing the local church."

Many of the fellows with the new think tank also served with the previous institute. As senior fellows, Midwestern Seminary's Allen and Oklahoma Baptist University's Whitlock are new to the institute.

"On issues of cultural engagement, Christian ethics and religious liberty, the ERLC not only leads Southern Baptists but has also taken a leadership role in the broader evangelical world," Allen said in a statement for BP. "The Research Institute is integral to the ERLC's mission, and I'm proud to serve as one of their senior research fellows."

Whitlock told BP in a written statement, "I'm honored to be a part of the ERLC's Research Institute and believe the fellows will provide valuable support and input on many of the most important ethical and religious liberty issues of our world. My hope is to be a convictional and winsome voice on the important issues of our day."

The Research Institute will hold its 2014 meeting in conjunction with the ERLC National Conference, which will be Oct. 27-29 in Nashville. The conference is titled "The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage."

Information on the institute, including the names of the fellows, is available at

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

8/15/2014 10:45:42 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Hillsong Church leads Dove nominees

August 15 2014 by Baptist Press

Music originating from Australia’s Hillsong Church leads the list of nominees for the 45th annual Dove Awards. Other top contenders – with five nominations each – include Lecrae, Mandisa and Matt Maher.

The Dove Awards are sponsored by the Gospel Music Association (GMA) to honor the best in Christian music and are decided by the votes of GMA members.

The awards show is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 17, at Nashville’s Allen Arena on the campus of Lipscomb University and will be broadcast live on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN).


Hillsong United, a praise band born out of the youth ministry of Australia’s Hillsong Church, is nominated in several categories in this year’s GMA Dove Awards.

“The Doves celebrate the impact of all genres of Gospel music, recognizing talent, ministry and outstanding performances,” GMA executive director Jackie Patillo said in a press release. “It is an honor and a privilege to once again have Lipscomb University as our host for Gospel music’s biggest event of the year.”

In announcing a new partnership with TBN, Patillo expressed excitement about the show’s live broadcast – something that hasn’t happened in several years.

“... Not only do our organizations align in mission, but TBN will get the show and our music out to a greater audience than ever before,” she said. “With their global and multi-platform enabled technology, virtually everyone, anywhere will be able to watch this year’s show.”

In the Aug. 13 announcement of nominees, Mandisa was nominated for song of the year (“Overcomer”), artist of the year and in three additional categories. Lecrae was nominated for artist of the year and in four other categories. Matt Maher was recognized for the song “Lord, I Need You” (nominated for song of the year) and in four other categories for his writing and performing.

Music and artists from Hillsong Church, a mega-church based in Sydney, Australia, led the nominations, including nods for song of the year (“Oceans”), artist of the year, new artist of the year and several others.

Following is a list of nominees for some of the top awards:

SONG OF THE YEAR: “Fix My Eyes” (for KING & COUNTRY), “Hello My Name Is” (Matthew West), “Hurricane” (Natalie Grant), “I Can Trust Him” (The Perrys), “Lord I Need You” (Matt Maher), “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” (Hillsong UNITED), “Overcomer” (Mandisa), “Revival” (Karen Peck and New River), “Say Amen” (Brian Free & Assurance), “That’s Why” (Ernie Haase and Signature Sound).

ARTIST OF THE YEAR: Casting Crowns, Hillsong UNITED, Lecrae, Mandisa, NEEDTOBREATHE, Switchfoot.

NEW ARTIST OF THE YEAR: 1 Girl Nation, Andy Mineo, Ellie Holcomb, Hillsong Young & Free, Love & The Outcome.

For a complete list of nominees, go to

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Laura Erlanson, operations coordinator for Baptist Press.)

8/15/2014 10:24:39 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Abedini faces death threats from ISIS

August 14 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Saeed Abedini, the American pastor imprisoned in Iran for his Christian faith, has received death threats from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists being held in the same prison, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) reported today (Aug. 13).

“This is an extremely dangerous development that puts Pastor Saeed’s life at grave risk,” ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow said. “Not only is Pastor Saeed facing threats from Iranian militants who have imprisoned him because of his Christian faith, he now faces new and perhaps even more dangerous threats from Iraqi ISIS prisoners who want to murder Pastor Saeed because of his faith. We call on President Obama and Secretary [of State John] Kerry to intervene immediately to secure Pastor Saeed’s release and to ensure that he is protected during this transfer to freedom. Pastor Saeed, who is approaching his second year of imprisonment in Iran, must be returned to his family without delay.”

Abedini told family members that he is being held in the same ward of Rajai Shahr Prison as members of ISIS – the jihadist group that has murdered Christians and other religious minorities in its conquest of an area spanning Iraq and Syria. Although Abedini is in a separate section of the ward, other prisoners have told him that the ISIS inmates intend to murder him for his Christian faith, ACLJ reported.

Abedini said he no longer leaves his cell for a brief, daily exercise period in the prison yard because he fears for his safety. When ISIS members enter Abedini’s section of the ward on their return from the prison yard, he hides in his cell and relies on fellow inmates to protect him, according to ACLJ.

Abedini’s wife Naghmeh, who lives in Idaho with their two young children, requested prayer in a Facebook post.

“Saeed’s mom was able to visit him today (behind a glass window),” Naghmeh Abedini wrote. “There are ISIS terrorists in Saeed’s ward now, which is causing new threats for Saeed as a Christian convert and pastor. This is hard to hear as his wife especially with all that is happening in Iraq. I am believing and trusting in Jesus. He is in control. Please continue to pray for Saeed’s safety and release.”

Abedini’s children, Jacob and Rebekka, have made a video asking President Obama to help secure their father’s release. Fox News reported on the video last week.

Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, requested prayer for Abedini in an Aug. 13 Facebook post, noting, “Saeed ... cannot trust the guards or other prisoners. God alone can protect him.”

Abedini, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent, was sentenced in early 2013 to eight years in prison for his involvement in Iran’s house church movement. Abedini used to live in Iran and was a leader of house churches before moving to America in 2005. He was arrested almost 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.

Naghmeh Abedini 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.

Naghmeh has testified before Congress on her husband’s behalf, spoken at the United Nations and asked European nations to press for his release as a condition of trade agreements with Iran.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

8/14/2014 11:42:10 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

US must ‘destroy’ Islamic State, say religious conservatives

August 14 2014 by David Gibson, Religion News Service

A coalition of more than 50 religious leaders, led by mostly conservative Catholic, evangelical and Jewish activists, is calling on President Obama to sharply escalate military action against Islamic extremists in Iraq. They say “nothing short of the destruction” of the Islamic State can protect Christians and religious minorities now being subjected to “a campaign of genocide.”
“We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief,” the petition reads. “None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force.”
But they say the situation is so dire that relief for these religious communities “cannot be achieved apart from the use of military force to degrade and disable” the Islamic State forces.
The petition was organized by Robert P. George, a prominent Catholic conservative and Republican activist, and he was joined by a range of other leaders, many of whom are known for their hawkish views on foreign policy.


RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks
Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right, leads a June 9, 2014, panel discussion as David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., listens.


They include Russell Moore, chief public policy official for the Southern Baptist Convention; Benjamin Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and conservative commentator; Edward Whelan, head of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; Gerard Bradley, a law professor at Notre Dame; Christian author and commentator Eric Metaxas; Martin Peretz, former editor of the New Republic; and writer Leon Wieseltier.
The signatories call on the U.S. to arm Kurdish forces in the north, which the administration has begun doing after weeks of intense debate over whether such a move would lead to the final breakup of Iraq into enclaves of Kurds and Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
“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/ISIL’s path,” the signers say, using alternative acronyms for the Islamic State. “Nothing short of the destruction of ISIS/ISIL as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims.”
The statement follows reports that the U.S. is weighing a larger effort to protect refugees, one that could include putting troops on the ground in Iraq.
The petition also comes amid growing calls by religious leaders in Iraq and internationally for the global community to take more concerted action.
The Vatican on Wednesday (Aug. 13) released a letter that Pope Francis wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealing to the world community “to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities.”
While Francis called for “concrete acts of solidarity” by the U.N. and included security forces as part of the solution, he was careful not to promote a military response as the chief means for resolving the tragedy. Other Catholic officials in Rome and Iraq have said the U.S. airstrikes are viewed as necessary and morally justified but they are leery of actions that could lead to another U.S.-led military campaign.
The letter from the religious activists, mainly Americans, was much more forceful in calling for military action.
At the end of their statement, the leaders, some of whom backed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq that led to years of violence, acknowledged that “our own nation is not without responsibility for the plight of victims of ISIS/ISIL genocide.”
But, they conclude: “The point is not to point fingers or apportion blame, but to recognize that justice as well as compassion demands that we take the steps necessary to end the (Islamic State) campaign of genocide and protect those who are its victims.”

8/14/2014 11:34:45 AM by David Gibson, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Golden Gate announces campus purchase

August 14 2014 by Ben Skaug, GGBTS/Baptist Press

Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary has signed a purchase agreement for a new primary campus site in Southern California east of Los Angeles near the Ontario International Airport.

In announcing the formal purchase and sale agreement (PSA) to the seminary community, Jeff Iorg, Golden Gate president, said, “We have chosen a facility to meet the needs of students in the 21st century. We will soon have a high-quality educational delivery center with excellent facilities for fulfilling our mission of shaping leaders in the future.”

Iorg also announced that the seminary will ask that a new name – Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention – be approved by the convention.

The new site includes a six-story building, an adjacent ready-to-build lot and more than 700 parking places in the city of Ontario, part of Southern California’s Inland Empire region. The building was constructed in 2009 and has remained vacant due to the economic downturn. The building’s exterior is finished and all mechanical systems have been installed, but its interior is unfinished. The adjacent lot is already legally entitled for a future building.


Golden Gate Seminary has purchased a six-story building in the Los Angeles area to anchor its new campus by the summer of 2016. The site also includes an adjacent ready-to-build lot and more than 700 parking places. The seminary also is beginning the process of requesting approval for a name change – Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The six-story building encompasses approximately 153,000 square feet, while a future building, at 75,000 square feet, can be constructed for such uses as a chapel, library, offices or classrooms. By comparison, the seminary’s core campus buildings in Mill Valley, Calif., are only 121,000 square feet. Thus, the new Southern California building is about 20 percent larger than the seminary’s current facilities, with room on the new site to nearly double the size of the current facilities.

“Our new campus will be very different than our former campus. It is a much more efficient use of space and resources,” Iorg said. “A seminary for the 21st century needs space for students, faculty, library, worship and administration. We will soon have state-of-the-art facilities for all these purposes, plus the most advanced educational technology available.”

In contrasting the seminary’s new model with other campus models, Iorg raised the question, “What about other buildings like gyms, swimming pools, exercise rooms and childcare centers? While there is nothing wrong with having them, they are not necessary for accomplishing our mission. When millions of people have not yet heard the name of Jesus, our school must model frugality and simplicity to prioritize resources for global missions. Our tuition must be kept low so students can graduate without seminary-created debt. Our future resources must be focused on people and programs – not facilities.

“Our national convention has challenged every church, association and state convention to economize and spend more money on direct mission activity,” Iorg added. “We have an opportunity to model doing this as a national entity and we must seize the moment.”

While the new campus plan also does not include on-site student housing, Iorg indicated it is still a priority. “Not using a traditional model does not mean we will not facilitate student housing. It simply means the housing won’t be at a traditional campus location,” he said. “Our goal is facilitating student enrollment and degree completion. We will meet that goal in ways that fulfill our mission. When it comes to recreation, housing and similar activities, we want students to be in the community close to the churches – learning to live on mission as part of their total training program with us.”

The seminary currently is finalizing plans to secure use permits, finish the building’s interior and prepare for relocation by June 2016. “We have a reasonable timetable for this project and will be ready to move within the two-year window allotted for our transition,” Iorg said.

Regarding the upcoming request for a name change, Iorg acknowledged the strength of the seminary’s current name but indicated the seminary’s board of trustees had determined requesting the new name ultimately is the best course of action.

“The name Golden Gate Seminary connects us with a beautiful bridge and rich heritage in the San Francisco Bay Area. Under that name, we have sent more than 8,000 graduates across America and around the world. Our current name has served us well and helped define our identity,” Iorg said. “We have a growing sense, however, that bearing a name so closely associated with an iconic landmark won’t serve us as well when our primary campus is in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles.”

In commenting on the reasons for selecting the proposed name of Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, Iorg said, “The new name connects to our heritage, frees us from geographic designations, allows for developing a more global identity, and acknowledges our Baptist distinctive.”

Iorg also underscored aspects of the seminary that will carry forward under the new name. “Gateway Seminary will build on the foundation established over the past 70 years and on the strengths of Golden Gate Seminary. We will remain biblical, missional and global. We will retain our passion for multi-cultural ministry and church-focused training. We will still operate five campuses, multiple CLD [Contextualized Leadership Development] centers and a growing online program. While our name is changing, our core values and commitments are not.”

Iorg also reminded the seminary community this will be a slow process. “We are now taking the initial legal steps toward becoming Gateway Seminary. We are making sure we can carry forward our assets, preserve future bequests and develop an appropriate online identity,” he said. “We will continue to operate as Golden Gate Seminary until June 2016. After that, if the SBC approves, we will build on the foundation of Golden Gate to establish our identity as Gateway Seminary.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ben M. Skaug is vice president for institutional advancement for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.)

8/14/2014 10:14:47 AM by Ben Skaug, GGBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gungor called to apologize by Ham

August 14 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press/Biblical Recorder

Dove-Award winning artist Michael Gungor needs to apologize for his blogposts criticizing theologians for believing in the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis and its account of Noah’s Ark, creationist Ken Ham told Baptist Press.

Gungor’s recent statements are particularly damaging because they may mislead youth and discourage them from accepting the gospel of salvation, said Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.

“Jesus referred to Noah’s day and Noah as a real person. So then he’s calling Jesus a liar, because if Genesis is not true, if it’s just a myth, if it’s not true, then Jesus is a liar, because Jesus quoted about the flood,” Ham said, “and Peter is a liar, and Paul is a liar, because they all quoted Genesis.”


Michael Gungor, right, and his wife and bandmate Lisa.

Gungor, leader of the Christian band Gungor, lost a September booking at a Baptist church after news spread of his February blogpost claiming Genesis is not factual. Gungor wrote follow-up posts August 6 and 8 titled “I’m With You,” calling “crazy” any educated theologian who believes Genesis is literal. Gungor’s blogposts are at

“All this to say, when I say to the fundamentalist, ‘I’m with you,’ I am not being flip or sarcastic,” Gungor wrote in a blog post. “I am saying this because I used to stand as a fundamentalist myself and felt threatened by anything more complex than a simple reading of the biblical text.

“I would be very surprised to find a single respected and educated theologian or biblical scholar that believes that one MUST read Noah’s flood completely literally down to the last detail to be ‘orthodox,’” he wrote. “That’s crazy! So why does this happen? Why do some fundamentalists create this dichotomy where you must either BELIEVE THE BIBLE (meaning that you take everything literally no matter what science says) or say that it’s a lie?”

Ham said Gungor should be called to account for his statements.

“This blog is not a respectable discussion,” Ham told Baptist Press.

“... He needs to be told that he needs to apologize for the tone of the article and the way he attacked Christians who believe God’s word in Genesis and believe in Noah’s flood. He needs to apologize for that and he needs to write in a respectable way.”

Even as Gungor continues to claim Christianity, Ham said, the singer’s statements are damaging to the growth of God’s Kingdom.

“If you’re using man’s ideas to reinterpret Genesis, you’re undermining the word from which the gospel comes. That is the big issue; it’s an issue of authority,” Ham said. “My great concern is him really influencing those young people that look up to him and that come to hear their music. ... I’m not saying he’s not a Christian, by the way. That’s important to understand. If he professes Christ as Savior, just because he believes what he believes and writes the way he writes, I’m not saying he’s not a Christian.

“But ... he can be a great stumbling block to others becoming Christians, because the more he mocks the Bible like this, and the more he tells people you can take man’s word and use it in judgment over God’s Word, a lot of those young people eventually don’t even listen to the gospel because they think the whole Bible can’t be true,” Ham said. “And that’s my concern....”

Ham extended to Gungor an invitation, via Baptist Press, to visit the Creation Museum and interview theologians and scientists on staff there.

“I’d like to invite Mr. and Mrs. Gungor to come to the Creation Museum. We’ll give them free passes to come to the museum,” Ham told Baptist Press. “I’d even be willing to, if they get themselves here, we’ll put them up in a hotel for the night and they can go through the museum and have access to any of our Ph.D. scientists they want and our theological experts to be able to discuss these issues.”

Answers in Genesis is constructing a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark, set to open in summer 2016.

“If anyone in the world has done the research on Noah’s Ark and how many animals were actually needed in the ark, and what the Bible actually says about the flood, and done research on geology, we have here at Answers in Genesis, in getting ready for this,” Ham said. “It will be one of the biggest evangelistic outreaches in the world when this is open in 2016.”
Excavation work began Aug. 7 in Petersburg, Ky. for the Ark replica. Its blueprint design will extend 510 feet, and the Ark Encounter theme park expects approximately two million people in the first year. Alongside the Creation Museum, the Ark Encounter is an apologetic outreach for Answers in Genesis.

Ham said, “It would seem from looking at Gungor’s blog, he’s never read any of our material. A number of things he says in there are just ridiculous. Claiming that Noah had to take all the millions of species on the ark is just ridiculous. If he had done any research at all, he’d know those statements are ... not true.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. Michael McEwen, BR’s content editor, contributed to this report.)

8/14/2014 10:04:15 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press/Biblical Recorder | with 0 comments

Pastor laments tweets prior to youth’s suicide

August 13 2014 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

A spokesman for the family of Ergun Caner, whose son took his life July 29, said they are encouraged over a statement of repentance by a Montana pastor who has faced criticism for several exchanges with the youth via Twitter.

“We’ve kept our ears close to the public chatter on social media surrounding the untimely death of Braxton Caner, son of Dr. Ergun and Jill Caner, including the most recent pronouncements of contrition by Montana pastor Jordan D. Hall,” said Peter Lumpkins, vice president of communications at Brewton-Parker College in Georgia where Caner has been president since December.

“Know we are encouraged Rev. Hall finally admitted his social media attack on a fifteen year old boy was both inappropriate and sinful,” Lumpkins said in a statement to Baptist Press today (Aug. 12).

“We’re further encouraged Hall has vowed to back away from his relentless character assassination of Braxton’s dad, Ergun Caner. Finally, we hope and pray Hall’s public contrition about his sinful harassment of the Caner family will inspire other cyber-bullies in several states including Arizona, Florida, California, Virginia, Georgia, and even foreign countries like Canada to learn from Hall’s experience and cease their harmful and sinful attacks upon the Caner family. It’s time to stop social media abuse.”

J.D. Hall, pastor of Fellowship Church of Sidney and one of the leaders of a group named Reformation Montana, addressed the exchanges with Braxton Caner in an Aug. 11 podcast titled “A Final Word On The Braxton Caner Saga.”

On July 2, Hall had written in the last of three Tweets challenging the moral content of some of the 15-year-old’s posts: “Because of your age, I’ll discontinue our convo. But if you ever want to speak or seek truth about your dad, email me.”

Hall also posted a subsequent blog titled “On Caner’s Son.” The post, later on July 2, which has been removed from the Internet, reflected challenges Hall had been waging against Ergun Caner, a former dean at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and popular conference speaker who often told of being raised as a Muslim before his conversion to Christianity. In a July 5 addendum, Hall said he had taken the counsel of trusted friends and was now seeing his contact with Braxton Caner as inappropriate.

Hall, in the Aug. 11 podcast, though doubting that the Twitter exchanges with Braxton Caner contributed to the youth’s suicide nearly four weeks later, stated that he is “unequivocally, completely broken” over the circumstances.

In “certain online forums, there was an immediate rush to tie the young man’s suicide to that brief social media exchange...,” Hall said, reading a statement he had delivered at Fellowship Church the previous day.

Hall said, “Some of Caner’s associates have accused me of ‘cyber-stalking’; ‘harassing’; and ‘bullying’ the young man. People are angry. They want someone to blame.” Hall added that some of his friends “asked me if my heart was right in calling him out.”

Hall said he now realizes, “I did not do it in the right spirit or out of the right motivation. It was sinful for me to challenge him publicly like that. I was not thinking or acting pastorally in how I addressed him. I certainly would have treated one of my own flock differently, albeit still directly.... News of his death hit me hard, and I was immediately smitten with shame for the lack of grace in my public interaction with him.”

In the weeks before his July 2 exchanges with Braxton Caner, Hall said he had been implementing the counsel of friends to change the contentious tone of the issues he has raised about the Southern Baptist Convention during the past three years.

“It is hard being both pastor and warrior. They don’t go well together,” he said, lamenting, however, that it was “too late to spare me from the consequences now engulfing me. In one sense, I am reaping what I sowed. When you live by the sword, you die by it.”

Hall said, “This terrible, terrible tragedy has accomplished two things (1) I am broken. I am unequivocally, completely broken. I am a crushed man. My spirit is crushed. I am sorrowful. I am hurting. (2) This has forever changed me, in more ways that I can currently comprehend....

“[T]he things of the world grow strangely dim,” Hall reflected, “and what seems to burst forth in high-definition clarity is a blood-soaked, rugged cross where all our sin was atoned for. ... [T]hat’s certainly the only source of comfort: a blood-soaked, rugged cross and an empty tomb.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

8/13/2014 2:06:15 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bibles booted from U.S. Navy base guest rooms

August 13 2014 by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service

The U.S. Navy will no longer allow Bibles and other religious materials in the guest rooms of Navy lodges, a decision that has infuriated some conservative groups, which recently learned about the new policy.
The Navy’s decision came after the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a letter questioning the constitutionality of religious literature in the Navy lodges’ 3,000 guest rooms.


Photo courtesy of Joshua H., via Wikimedia Commons
The U.S. Navy will no longer allow Bibles and other religious materials in the guest rooms of Navy lodges, a decision that has infuriated some conservative groups, which recently learned about the new policy.

The June 19 directive from the Navy Exchange Service Command, which runs the Navy’s 39 guest lodges in the U.S. and abroad, allows religious materials to be made available to guests. But it forbids religious items to be placed in guest rooms, aligning the command, known as NEXCOM, with U.S. Navy policy, said NEXCOM spokeswoman Kathleen Martin.
On Tuesday (Aug. 12) the American Family Association made the directive the subject of its latest “action alert,” asking members to call Navy officials to reverse the decision. The Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty has called on the Navy to do the same.
“Our U.S. soldiers are being asked to respect the Muslim religion while Christians are being categorically discriminated against,” said AFA President Tim Wildmon. “Such an attack on religious liberty has no place in the United States military.”
But supporters of the Navy directive, said it rights a constitutional wrong, in that the Establishment Clause does not allow the U.S. government to promote or favor any particular religion.
“We would be just as angry if there was a Quran or a Torah or Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion,” in the bedside tables of these Navy lodges, said Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
The directive asks lodge managers to work with Navy chaplains to determine “the method to remove religious material currently in the guest rooms.”
The Chaplains Alliance for Religious Liberty said NEXCOM was trampling on a long-standing tradition.
“A Bible in a hotel room is no more illegal than a chaplain in the military. They are there for those who want them,” said retired Army Reserve Chaplain Ron Crews, the alliance’s executive director. “There is nothing wrong with allowing the Gideons to place Bibles in Navy lodges, which it has done for decades at no cost to the Navy.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lauren Markoe covered government and features as a daily newspaper reporter for 15 years before joining the Religion News Service staff as a national correspondent in 2011.)

8/13/2014 10:41:08 AM by Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

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