August 2015

USCIRF crucial to religious freedom, Moore says

August 28 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore has joined a diverse collection of religious liberty advocates to urge members of Congress to reauthorize an important federal panel on global religious freedom as the deadline for doing so nears.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and 85 others signed onto a letter calling for reauthorization of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) by Sept. 30. The current authority for the panel expires on that date.
USCIRF – a nine-member, bipartisan panel – researches conditions for religious freedom overseas and makes policy recommendations to Congress, the White House and State Department.
In their Aug. 24 letter, Moore and his allies with the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable said USCIRF “has been vital to elevating the promotion of religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy.” The commission “can be counted upon to give an unvarnished view of the state of religious freedom in any given country regardless of the complexities of the bilateral relationship between our respective governments,” according to the letter.
The ERLC’s Moore said, “Religious liberty isn’t an American privilege. It’s a fundamental human right shared by every single being that has a conscience.”


Robert George, USCIRF's chairman

USCIRF “plays a crucial role in standing up for soul freedom against tyranny around the world,” he said. “My prayer is that Congress would recognize this and stand on the side of liberty by passing this bill.”
Robert George, USCIRF’s chairman, said the “dire circumstances of religious freedom across the globe” make the commission’s work “more important – and urgent – than ever.”
“It is critical that the commission be reauthorized, and reauthorized on terms that do not weaken its ability to fulfill its mission,” George said.
“I am personally deeply grateful to the member groups of the IRF Roundtable for their strong support for USCIRF’s reauthorization,” said George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University. “The Roundtable and its member groups are among our greatest allies in the fight to protect religious freedom and defend victims of persecution on the basis of religion or belief.”
If Congress does not reauthorize USCIRF by Sept. 30, the commission must shut down its operations. Apart from approval of a bill reauthorizing the panel, Congress could extend USCIRF’s ability to function by including it in a continuing resolution, which is a short-term funding measure.
In their letter, the members of the IRF Roundtable called on the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to extend the commission’s authority by working for passage of the USCIRF Reauthorization Act, S. 1798.
The legislation will not only reauthorize USCIRF for six years but strengthen the commission’s “mandate and the tools at its disposal,” according to the IRF Roundtable letter to Sen. Bob Corker, R.-Tenn., and Sen. Ben Cardin, D.-Md. Corker is the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, while Cardin is the lead Democrat on the panel.
The signers encouraged adoption of S. 1798 rather than another reauthorization bill, the Further Independence of Religion for Security and Tolerance Freedom Act, S. 1860. They said S. 1798 “is better suited to advance freedom of religion or belief” because S. 1860 includes refugee-related provisions that are part of a debate that is unlikely to be settled in time for USCIRF’s reauthorization. The signers also said S. 1860 includes measures that “could potentially undermine” USCIRF’s work.
Like the Senate, the House of Representatives has yet to pass reauthorization legislation for the commission.
USCIRF came into existence in 1998 upon the enactment of the International Religious Freedom Act by Congress and President Clinton. Evangelicals helped lead the effort to gain passage of the legislation after the widespread persecution of Christians and other religious adherents overseas gained attention in the mid-1990s.
The commission makes an annual report on global religious freedom, as well as periodic reports on particular countries. In its yearly report, USCIRF includes recommendations of governments it believes the State Department should designate as “countries of particular concern,” a label reserved for the world’s most severe violators of religious freedom.
While conditions have improved in some countries through the efforts of USCIRF and the federal government, religious repression or persecution of Christians and others has continued or mounted in recent years in such countries as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt and North Korea. About 77 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with high levels of religious restriction, according to the Pew Research Center.
The IRF Roundtable – a loosely organized group of non-governmental organizations that meets regularly for conversations about religious liberty overseas – acknowledges its participants do not agree on many theological or political issues. They agree, however, on the significance of religious liberty, including its role as “the ultimate counter-terrorism weapon, pre-emptively undermining religious extremism,” according to the Aug. 24 letter.
In addition to Moore, other individuals who signed onto the letter were Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and a former USCIRF member; Chris Seiple, president of the Institute for Global Engagement; Ann Buwalda, executive director of the Jubilee Campaign USA; Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; Lauren Homer, head of Law and Liberty Trust; and Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern.
Among the organizations that endorsed the letter were Open Doors USA, Family Research Council, Home School Legal Defense Association, Christian Solidarity International, Coptic Solidarity, 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, Church of Scientology National Affairs Office, Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, Uyghur American Association, Baha’is of the United States and American Humanist Association.
(EDITORS’ NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

8/28/2015 12:24:13 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

IMB plans organizational ‘reset’ to ease budget woes

August 27 2015 by Biblical Recorder staff

International Mission Board (IMB) leaders announced in an Aug. 27 press release an organizational restructuring plan that will reduce personnel expenses and balance their budget. IMB’s 2014 fiscal goals fell $21 million short. Deficits totaled more than $210 million in the last six years.
The plan includes two personnel reduction phases that will be enacted through early 2016. The first phase includes a voluntary retirement incentive for qualifying employees through the end of 2015. The second phase will involve a voluntary resignation incentive for all employees along with a possible reduction of IMB personnel in 2016. IMB leaders said in a frequently-asked-questions document also released on Aug. 27, “It is expected that the 600-800 people who step aside from the IMB in the next six months will not be stepping ‘onto the sidelines of mission,’ but instead will be moving into a new phase of involvement in mission.”
IMB President David Platt said in a conference call that previously enacted budget reduction plans – like reducing the number of new missionaries sent through IMB – are “no longer viable in light of present realities. IMB can’t continue to overspend as we have.”
Personnel expenses make up approximately 80 percent of IMB’s budget, according to Platt. The number of IMB missionaries on the field hit a high mark in 2009 at 5,600, he added. To remedy budget shortfalls, previous IMB leadership enacted a plan to slowly reduce the number of missionaries to 4,200. The number currently stands at 4,800.
Platt emphasized that recent decisions in no way question the decisions of previous IMB leaders. “There are no ideal steps at this point,” he added.
Sebastian Traeger
, IMB executive vice president, estimates the new financial plans will balance the budget by 2017. Platt repeatedly emphasized in the conference call the importance of maximizing IMB’s resources so the greatest number of people across the globe can hear the gospel. IMB’s organizational health is an important aspect of that mission. The changes announced, Platt said, are “for the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability. We want to be in a position where we can operate within our budget, where we are not continuing to deplete reserves.”
The full text of the IMB press release appears below.
International Mission Board (IMB) leaders have outlined a plan to address IMB’s revenue shortfalls and complete a reset of the organization in order to move forward into the future with innovative vision, wise stewardship and high accountability.
The plan was presented by senior IMB leadership, including President David Platt, during an Aug. 27 town hall meeting including missionaries and staff, who collectively attended either in person or through digital communication. IMB trustees were informed of the plan during their Aug. 25-26 board meeting in downtown Richmond, Va.
Platt said the urgency of the plan is based in the reality that while Southern Baptist giving through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has increased in recent years, the IMB projects it will fall $21 million short of its current annual budget, marking several consecutive years of budget shortfalls for the 170-year-old organization. Over the past six years, the organization’s expenditures have totaled $210 million more than it has been given each year.
To address revenue shortfalls IMB enacted a plan to slowly reduce the number of missionaries through normal attrition and limited appointments, while using IMB’s reserves – including global property sales – to keep as many missionaries on the field as possible.
“We praise God for the reserves and property sales that made this possible and for leadership which chose to spend these resources for the spread of the gospel,” Platt said. “But we cannot continue to overspend. For the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability we must act.”

Overcoming revenue shortfall

Sebastian Traeger, IMB’s executive vice president, explained that senior leadership considered several options to overcome the revenue shortfall. 
“The challenge is that we’re looking at both large revenue shortfalls and low cash reserves – so any action needs to include a plan to address both simultaneously,” Traeger said. “We considered multiple options – such as further reducing missionary appointments or liquidating additional property – but none of them bring about a balanced budget fast enough, or they are not feasible to implement in the short term. Our goal is to align our cost structure with the amount of money given to us each year.”
Leadership determined the only option that is both feasible and has significant financial impact is to reduce the number of personnel it supports, since the vast majority of the IMB expenses are personnel related.
“If we are going to balance our budget, we must reduce approximately 600 to 800 of our staff and field personnel,” Platt said, indicating that number represents up to 15 percent of IMB’s total employees. 
IMB leadership has decided the best way to reduce staff is to begin with a voluntary retirement incentive that will be offered to all eligible employees, including both missionaries and staff. While the parameters defining who is eligible are still being finalized, details of the incentive will be announced Sept. 10, 2015, and those eligible will be notified in the days following the announcement.
“Whether to accept the incentive is a voluntary decision completely up to the discretion of eligible individuals,” Platt said. “This offers personnel who may already be considering a transition in their lives an opportunity to make that transition.
“We want to be as generous as possible, and we want to honor every brother or sister for his or her service. We know that taking a voluntary retirement incentive does not mean stepping onto the sidelines of mission, but moving into a new phase of involvement in mission.”
IMB is sending approximately 300 new missionaries in 2015 and expects to send a comparable number in 2016.
As phase one of the plan (the voluntary retirement incentive) is being implemented, phase two of the plan will focus on concluding a reset of the organization. Platt said that phase would include consolidating support services, recalibrating mobilization, assessing global engagement and re-envisioning training.
He noted the organization must humbly and openly ask God, “What are you leading us to do?” and individual employees must ask God, “What are you leading me to do?”
 “We must get to a healthy place in the present in order to be in a healthy position for the future,” Platt said. “We want to move forward with innovative vision, wise stewardship, and high accountability to the churches we serve, the peoples we reach, and the God we worship.”

8/27/2015 1:30:54 PM by Biblical Recorder staff | with 0 comments

Baptist leaders respond to Ashley Madison news

August 27 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

With the potential affairs of millions exposed by a hack of the adultery-facilitating Ashley Madison website, Southern Baptist leaders have offered counsel to affected families, churches and individuals.
“We are already hearing stories of families torn apart, of children terrified about what is happening to their dad, and of the tragedy of suicide,” LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer wrote in an Aug. 26 blog post. “Church leaders cannot respond in their own power. God, however, can provide them all they need to respond in such a time of tragedy and hurt.”
The Ashley Madison website was launched in 2001 as a matchmaking site for people in committed relationships seeking to have affairs. The site’s slogan was “Life is short. Have an affair.” In July, hackers stole the personal data of more than 30 million of the site’s users and released it online in August, according to media reports.
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, responded to news of the site in a written statement, “The Bible states in Romans 8:5 that those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires, but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.


“Scripture encourages us to keep our focus and minds upon that which makes us more like Christ. Oh, may every follower of Christ so live that we serve our Lord with a whole heart – a heart that is devoted totally in its focus upon Christ,” he noted. “This is the great antidote to the allures of the flesh.
Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted Aug. 25, “Seeing one family after another torn apart by the Ashley Madison scandal. Another one tonight. Awful and wrenching.”
Though “adultery is not new in the Christian world,” Rainer wrote, “it seemed to be more problematic” surrounding the Ashley Madison data breach. “Those who committed adultery had their names on the Internet for all to see.” He suggested several “ways church leaders and members can deal with the Ashley Madison scandal if it comes to your church.”
Pastors “must lead” by acknowledging the scandal of publicized adultery and addressing it with grace, Rainer wrote.
“To be grace-filled does not mean we minimize the sins of adultery, lying, and betrayal,” he wrote. “But it is incredibly sad and tragic when Christians on the list have more to fear and less hope than non-believers on the list. I fear that some Christians will retreat into a mode of legalism and judgment when grace should be pervasive.”
The goal of ministry to those who have committed adultery is restoration to the church body, Rainer wrote, acknowledging church discipline as a potential path to restoration.
Leaders “must understand the extensive nature” of damage done by extramarital affairs to both families and entire congregations, Rainer wrote. “It will take months, even years, for healing to take place fully. Pastors and other church leaders must be prepared to deal with this for the long haul.”
Rainer concluded, “You church leaders who are dealing with this tragedy have my prayers. You families impacted by this tragedy have my prayers. And you who are on the list have my prayers as well. Now is the time for the body of Christ to be one of grace, healing, and restoration.”
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, wrote in an Aug. 26 blog post that someone told him in conversation, “I’m on the Ashley Madison list” and then asked, “Now what?” Stetzer’s first admonition to anyone asking that question was not to commit suicide.
“No matter how large the offense looms before you, suicide is not the way to confront your failure,” Stetzer wrote. “Let’s be blunt: your actions at Ashley Madison hurt the people you love. Don’t hurt them again – and more.”
Stetzer’s other counsel included:

  • “Get right with God.”

  • “Cast everything on Him.”

  • “Confess to your spouse,” even if you signed up with Ashley Madison but did not have a physical affair.

  • “Confess to someone else.”

To pastors who signed up with the adultery site, Stetzer advised, “Confess to your church.”
“If you’ve committed adultery, you are now disqualified [from] ministry,” he wrote to pastors. “If you signed up for Ashley Madison (or any similar site), but never had a physical affair, you should still confess. Registering and paying a membership fee for the opportunity to commit adultery is steps beyond a lustful glance on the sidewalk.
“If your church considers the membership alone egregious enough to disqualify your ministry, or at least calls for an extended break for counseling (which I’d strongly recommend), trust God, and love your church,” Stetzer wrote.
Stetzer concluded with a reminder that God’s care extends even to pastors who commit adultery.
“You’ve caused pain, you’ll suffer pain, but God remains the Great Physician,” Stetzer wrote. “He can heal your soul and the souls of those around you.
“You may feel desperate, but do not despair,” Stetzer continued. “Weep instead. Grieve for what you have done, but look to God and come clean. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead can lift you. And, He will.”
In an Aug. 25 blog post, Stetzer said the rampant adultery evidenced by the Ashley Madison data leak is the fruit of the sexual revolution.
“Many are reaping what they have sown individually,” he wrote, “but we are also reaping what we have sown culturally.”
Stetzer noted, “As the Ashley Madison leak moves from a big data file and glaring headlines on a computer, to strained conversations or screaming matches around the kitchen table, maybe it’s worth asking, ‘Is this really what we wanted as a society?’”
Ashley Madison is correct in its assertion that earthly “life is short,” Stetzer wrote. But the appropriate response to that reality includes faithfulness in marriage and repentance when we sin.
“If you are on the list, or know someone who is, a key word is repentance, and there is a word that comes after that – forgiveness. That will not free us from consequences, but it does point us to Jesus. He is able to lead us past the pain and lies of Ashley Madison and into the grace and truth He provides,” Stetzer wrote.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

8/27/2015 1:06:38 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SBC entities back GuideStone at high court

August 27 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Three Southern Baptist entities have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling against the convention’s health and financial benefits organization in a crucial religious freedom case.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Aug. 24, GuideStone Financial Resources received support from other Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entities in its challenge to the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate. The International Mission Board (IMB), Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – as well as Southern’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr. – called in the brief for the high court to grant the appeal by GuideStone and other ministries.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver declined in July to grant an injunction blocking enforcement of the rule, rejecting arguments by GuideStone and a host of other religious non-profit organizations that the controversial mandate and its accommodation for such entities violate their religious freedom. The regulation requires employers to provide for their workers not only contraceptives but drugs and devices that can potentially cause abortions.
GuideStone, along with two of the ministries that participate in its health plans, joined the Little Sisters of the Poor and other organizations in appealing the 10th Circuit decision to the Supreme Court. The case is one of seven appeals before the high court of mandate rulings unfavorable to religious institutions. The justices are expected to consider review of the appeals from the religious institutions in late September or early October. The high court will open its next term Oct. 5, the first day for oral arguments.
In their brief, the SBC entities and Mohler say Christian and Southern Baptist doctrine teach it is a sin to support directly or indirectly the killing of an unborn child through abortion. “[A] statute or regulation requiring a Southern Baptist individual or ministry to be complicit in conduct the Christian faith teaches is morally wrong forces that person or ministry into an impossible choice – to either violate conscience or violate the law – and imposes a substantial burden on the exercise of religion,” the brief says.
“We need to stand in every way with those seeking to protect the rights of religious conscience over against the tyranny of the state,” Mohler said. “In this case, we have the Obama administration telling Christian institutions when Christian conviction should and should not apply. That is simply not the role of the United States government, and that’s why this case is so important.”
ERLC President Russell Moore described the case as crucial for “the preservation of religious liberty.”
“A government that can pave over the consciences of some can steamroll over dissent everywhere,” Moore said. “My prayer is that the Supreme Court will once again intervene in this administration’s cavalier disregard for soul freedom and uphold God-given rights of conscience, not just of religious Americans but of all Americans.”
GuideStone welcomed the support from its fellow Southern Baptists, as well as the 20 states and various other organizations that filed briefs Aug. 24.
“This support is affirming, and we hope and pray that the Supreme Court will decide to hear the arguments in this case,” GuideStone General Counsel Harold R. Loftin Jr. said in a news release.
In spite of its July ruling, the 10th Circuit announced Aug. 21 it would maintain the preliminary injunction provided GuideStone by a federal judge nearly two years ago while the appeal to the Supreme Court proceeds.
The IMB and the ERLC also filed a friend-of-the-court brief Aug. 10 in support of another mandate appeal to the high court by Houston Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University and Westminster Theological Seminary.
The cases are two of 56 involving religious non-profit organizations that object to the rule issued in 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to help implement the health-care law enacted the previous year, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. HHS provided an exemption to the rule for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, non-profit organizations that object. It issued an accommodation for religious non-profits, but many of those ministries or institutions have found it unacceptable.
In its latest version announced in July, HSS finalized a rule that enables non-profit religious organizations to notify HHS in writing of their religious objections. 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.
Religious liberty and pro-life advocates find the rule woefully lacking, contending it is basically an accounting gimmick that makes the religious organizations channels through which coverage for contraceptives and potentially abortion-causing drugs is provided.
In their brief, the SBC entities and Mohler tell the Supreme Court, “In light of the broad scope of the Christian faith and the Southern Baptist theological opposition to abortion, [the organizations appealing to the justices] cannot, as a matter of doctrine and conscience, distribute abortion-inducing drugs and devices directly or indirectly by authorizing, obligating, or incentivizing a third party – and particularly their own third-party administrators – to use Petitioners’ health plans to provide such drugs and devices to others. Scripture and Southern Baptist belief prohibit not only direct and personal wrongdoing, but also complicity in doing what the Christian believes to be sin.”
The brief filed by the IMB, ERLC, Southern Seminary and Mohler points to the Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC’s statement of faith, and a series of pro-life resolutions adopted by messengers at annual meetings for more than three decades. Southern Baptists “have a firm and well-known theological opposition to abortion, and the Southern Baptist Convention has repeatedly expressed its opposition to abortion in the strongest terms,” according to the brief.
The mandate “substantially burdens the religious exercise of Petitioners’ Christian ministries by imposing draconian fines for acts specifically mandated by Christian doctrine,” the brief says. It asks the Supreme Court to review “whether centuries-old religious groups may practice their historic beliefs free from intrusive regulation.”
The abortion/contraception mandate violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), according to the brief. RFRA requires the government to have a compelling interest and to use the least narrow means to burden a person’s religious exercise.
GuideStone is exempt from the mandate and accompanying fines, but it serves ministries that face hefty penalties for failure to abide by the rule. Two of those – Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga., and Oklahoma City-based Reaching Souls International – joined GuideStone in the suit. Truett-McConnell College is affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention, and Reaching Souls is a missions organization that trains Africans to reach their continent with the Gospel of Christ.
Little Sisters of the Poor – which joined GuideStone in appealing to the Supreme Court – is a Roman Catholic order of nuns that serves the needy in Denver.
The HHS mandate requires coverage of federally approved contraceptives, including the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can even act after implantation to end the life of the child.
Among other organizations filing briefs Aug. 24 in support of GuideStone and its allies were the Christian Legal Society, American Center for Law and Justice, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and a group of Orthodox Jewish rabbis.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

Related Stories:

Court rules against religious groups in contraception case
GuideStone appeals to SCOTUS over abortion mandate
Supreme Court: lower court’s mandate decision lacking

8/27/2015 12:58:16 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ISIS rapes captives as ‘worship,’ experts say

August 27 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Revelation that the Islamic State of Islam and Syria (ISIS) caliph repeatedly raped American hostage Kayla Mueller before her murder has brought to light the terrorists’ revival of an ancient practice of raping women captives as a form of religious “worship,” experts say.
Ayman S. Ibrahim, senior fellow for the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said the gruesome practice dates to a biographical text about Muslim prophet Muhammad, who is recorded to have taken a captive as his wife after killing her husband during a seventh century conflict with the Jewish tribe of Bani Qurayza. The practice was supposedly continued after Muhammad’s death by Muslim leader Khalid ibn al-Walid, who beheaded a notable man, named Malik, and fornicated with his widow, Ibrahim said.
“The evil deeds of ISIS and its commanders will continue, supported by what they claim to be sacred – ancient holy texts. The voice of these texts is louder than contemporary reasoning,” Ibrahim blogged on the First Things journal of religion and public life. “If the Muslim community itself does not counter the claims offered by militant Muslim groups, there can be no hope in overcoming the use of violence under the banner of religion.”


ISIS flag

The rape of Mueller, a 26-year-old humanitarian aid worker whom ISIS captured in August 2013 in Turkey along with her Syrian boyfriend, was revealed months after her February murder. U.S. intelligence officials confirmed in June Mueller’s sexual enslavement by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, her parents told the Associated Press.
“They told us that he married her, and we all understand what that means,” the Associated Press quoted her father Carl Mueller. “Kayla did not marry this man,” her mother Marsha Mueller added. “He took her to his room and he abused her and she came back crying.”
Mueller was among perhaps thousands of women and girls captured and systematically tortured and repeatedly raped by ISIS, according to numbers released in March by Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) based its report in part on the interviews with 11 women and nine girls who managed to escape ISIS in northern Iraq between September 2014 and January 2015, as well as medical service providers, community leaders and activists serving victims.
“The women and girls who spoke to Human Rights Watch described repeated rape, sexual violence, and other abuse in ISIS captivity,” HRW reported. “Jalila (all survivors’ names have been changed for their security), age 12, said that Arab men whom she recognized from her village north of Sinjar accosted her and seven family members on August 3, 2014, as they were trying to flee ISIS. … Jalila said that during her captivity, seven ISIS fighters ‘owned’ her, and four raped her on multiple occasions: ‘Sometimes I was sold. Sometimes I was given as a gift.”
Joe Carter, a communications specialist with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, writes that ISIS “considers rape of sex slaves to be a form of worship,” referencing a New York Times article in which a 15-year-old Yazidi girl describes the actions of a 20-year-old ISIS soldier who raped her.
“Every time that he came to rape me, he would pray,” said the girl identified only as F, the first letter of her name. “He kept telling me this is ibadah (an Islamic term meaning worship).”
Carter also referenced the October 2014 issue of the ISIS propaganda magazine Dabiq, which included an article on the “revival of slavery before the (judgment) hour,” which stated a religious justification for sex slavery; and an ISIS pamphlet which promoted the rape of even prepubescent girls.
ISIS currently has an estimated 3,000 girls and women enslaved, most of them Yazidi, HRW reported. Amnesty International has also chronicled the abuse.
Freedom for those enslaved lies in the hands of Muslims themselves, Ibrahim blogged.
“The solution is not to keep debating whether ISIS is or is not Islamic, as the driving texts are clear and loud,” Ibrahim wrote. “An end to rape cannot be obtained by downplaying any Islamic-related role in such terror. Neither can the solution stem from a politically-correct discourse out to avoid causing offense. … Non-Muslims cannot refute evidence offered by Muslims and embedded in Muslim sacred texts.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

8/27/2015 12:52:05 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Seminary community mourns loss of John Gibson

August 27 2015 by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS

The first day of a new semester was marred by sadness as New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s (NOBTS) Leavell College students learned of the death of John Gibson, professor of communication.
Gibson, 56, died Aug. 24.
A memorial service for Gibson, known for his acts of kindness within the seminary community, will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 28, in Leavell Chapel on the seminary campus in a joint service with First Baptist Church in New Orleans where Gibson’s wife Christi has served as minister of discipleship and missions.


John Gibson

Gibson was discovered at his home on the seminary campus at approximately 5:30 p.m. Aug. 24 by his wife when she arrived home from work. After finding Gibson unresponsive, she immediately notified emergency medical services. EMS workers were unable to revive Gibson, and he was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of death is still undetermined.
Gibson was elected to the faculty of Leavell College (called the College of Undergraduate Studies at the time) in 1998. Before joining the faculty, Gibson led the seminary’s student enlistment department and served as director of alumni relations and church minister relations.
“John was a popular member of our Leavell College faculty,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. “He was particularly known for his acts of kindness to the seminary family. John was the quintessential good neighbor.”
Gibson worked tirelessly in his spare time providing free car repair for countless seminary students. Often, Kelley said, Gibson purchased parts out of his own pocket and refused to receive repayment from students.
Thomas Strong, dean of Leavell College, said, “As a colleague, he was known as one to express care and compassion in a tangible way both to our students and to our faculty. John was loved by the students because of his love for the ministry and for them; he was always a favorite. Our hearts are saddened as we miss greatly a significant part of our Leavell College family – a colleague – a friend. We are better because of John and the way God used him in our lives.”
Born in Louisiana to a long line of Baptist ministers, Gibson spent many of his formative years in Mississippi where his father served in pastoral ministry. He earned master of divinity and doctor of theology degrees at NOBTS and an undergraduate degree from Mississippi College.
Gibson served as youth minister and senior pastor at numerous churches in Louisiana and Mississippi. At the time of his death, he was pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Pearlington, Miss., a community located on the banks of the Pearl River. The town of Pearlington was devastated by Hurricane Katrina and Gibson worked tirelessly with recovery efforts there and in New Orleans where he lived.
Leavell College students were notified of Gibson’s death during the first class period Aug. 25. Morning classes were dismissed and students were encouraged to gather in the Hardin Student Center with friends, professors, area pastors and members of the local collegiate ministry staff as they processed the news. The seminary’s Leeke Magee Christian Counseling Center set aside a special time for members of the seminary family to receive counseling services beginning Aug. 25.
The impact Gibson made on the seminary campus was evident by the outpouring of appreciation, grief and shock that appeared on social media following the announcement of his death. Students, alumni, faculty and staff posted numerous, poignant statements about the professor on Facebook and Twitter. Many shared stories of a timely car repair by Gibson while others shared lessons learned under his teaching.
Kelley asked for prayer for the Gibson family and the entire NOBTS community in this time of loss. In addition to his wife Christi, he is survived by two adult children: Callie, a doctoral student at the University of Alabama, and Trey, an undergraduate student at Louisiana State University.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial gifts be made to the John Gibson Servant Leadership Fund established at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, c/o Institutional Advancement, 3939 Gentilly Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70126 or online at
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gary Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

8/27/2015 12:45:46 PM by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS | with 0 comments

Children give to help those in need

August 27 2015 by Lily Jameson, Baptist Global Response

Through giving their pennies, nickels and dimes and more, kids at Circle Drive Baptist Church are seeking to help others through Baptist Global Response (BGR).
“Children can make a difference right now by giving and by praying,” Circle Drive Children’s Ministry Director Kathy Routt in Colorado Springs, Colo., said. “But, they’re also future givers and … those who are going to care for people around the world.”


Photo by Kathy Routt
Grade school students from Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., proudly display potholders they gave away in exchange for donations to Baptist Global Response. They also made baked goods for the fundraiser and eventually collected $1,200 for Middle Eastern refugees.

For the past several years, the church’s children’s ministry has encouraged kids to raise money to help Haitian earthquake survivors recover from disaster, to buy pigs for Southeast Asian pastors who need income sources and more.
This past spring, they raised money for Baptist Global Response’s work with Middle Eastern refugees. The humanitarian aid organization facilitates, on behalf of Southern Baptists, hundreds of projects in more than 50 countries by providing the basics of life, such as food, water and shelter.
To assist BGR in helping feed and shelter the displaced, children set up a booth at Circle Drive Baptist Church and gave away homemade coasters and baked goods in exchange for donations.
At the end of the fundraiser, about $1,200 had been collected.
“[The children] were so excited,” Routt said. “They were amazed. To kids … that’s a huge amount of money to them.”
Before embarking on the project, Routt made sure her students understood the needs they were addressing. She says she told them about the millions of refugees who have fled multiple conflicts in places like Syria, and then she made the story personal. She asked the children about what they would do if someone knocked on their door and told them they had 10 minutes to flee their house before enemy forces invaded. What would they bring with them? How would they transport their possessions? What would they eat when they reached a safe place?
Then, without Routt leading them, the children prayed. They prayed the refugees would find safety, food, shelter and hope through Christ.
“Hearing them pray for the people really helps you know that they got it,” Routt said.
The kids at Circle Drive Baptist Church are not alone. Children like this are now mounting fundraisers and making donations all over the country, says BGR Executive Director Jeff Palmer. He noted donations from Vacation Bible School offerings have increased dramatically over the past two years.
For instance, Piner Baptist Church in Morning View, Ky., submitted a VBS offering of more than $2,000 to help Nepal earthquake survivors rebuild their lives. The VBS at Urbancrest Baptist Church in Lebanon, Ohio, also gave more than $1,200 toward whatever project needed funds the most. In an email, senior pastor Tom Pendergrass writes that one third-grader from Urbancrest donated nearly $100. He told his parents other children needed the money more than he did.
“It’s challenging to my faith,” Palmer said. “If a 10-year-old or a 5-year-old can do that, why can’t I do more?”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lily Jameson is a staff writer for Baptist Global Response at

8/27/2015 12:39:29 PM by Lily Jameson, Baptist Global Response | with 0 comments

What happens to children who die in infancy?

August 26 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

In response to the release of a series of videos showing Planned Parenthood employees reportedly discussing the sale of baby parts obtained through abortion, evangelicals have expressed a range of views on the eternal destiny of children who die in infancy.
Among Southern Baptists, most agree scripture suggests aborted babies – along with others dying in infancy and individuals with severe mental disabilities – go to heaven. But pastors and theologians disagree on various related issues from the clarity of scripture on children’s salvation to whether infants bear guilt before God.
Points of agreement include the evil of abortion and the goodness of God.
“As tragic as this situation is,” Connecticut pastor David Saylor said of infant deaths, “it’s not beyond the sovereign power of God to be in control of. We’re not totally lost to our situation. We’re still in the hands of God.”


Saylor, pastor of First Baptist Church in Manchester, Conn., said he doesn’t think the Bible “specifically or directly” explains the eternal destiny of infants who die in infancy or other persons mentally unable to understand the concepts of sin and faith. While Christians “can’t be dogmatic about what God hasn’t chosen to clearly reveal to us,” Saylor believes “God may apply Christ’s blood to those who are unable to accept by faith the gift of salvation.”
Infants are not innocent before God because they bear guilt that is imputed to all humans due to Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden, Saylor said, citing Psalm 51:5 and Romans 5:12-14. “A baby just born or in the womb hasn’t sinned personally yet, but he has a fallen nature and that’s the issue God has to conquer.”
Saylor’s belief that God “may” apply Christ’s blood to infants is based on his notion of “the justice of God” rather than a specific scripture passage, he said. It is reasonable to speculate that if children “haven’t come to the point where they can have faith, then God may apply Christ’s blood even without that faith,” Saylor said.
Doug Melton, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, believes the Bible allows Christians to express greater certainty about the eternal destiny of babies who die in infancy.
“Whenever we take the full context of scripture,” Melton said, “I have a real hard time sitting in front of a mom and dad and saying to them, ‘I don’t know where your stillborn child is.’”
Infants who die in infancy go to heaven, Melton said. He based his view, first, on the Old Testament teaching that God only punished Israelites 20 and older when the nation rebelled against Him on the edge of the Promised Land. In contrast, God allowed younger people to enter the land after 40 years of wilderness wandering. Adolescents and children were not barred from the land presumably, Melton said, “because they had not willfully rebelled against God.”
That account from Numbers 14, he said, is “a type that’s pointing ahead to the scriptural understanding of heaven.”
Second, Melton said Romans 1:20 suggests individuals unable to “perceive” God through observation of His creation “are not held accountable because they have not willfully rebelled.” All humans inherit a sinful nature from Adam, Melton said, but scripture only threatens punishment for personal sin.
Despite infants’ lack of moral culpability, Melton believes they are saved by Christ’s atonement, though he does not “fully understand” how that salvation transaction works.

Beliefs of ‘most Southern Baptists’

In 2013, a Calvinism Advisory Committee appointed by Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, acknowledged disagreement among Southern Baptists on some issues related to infant salvation – such as whether all humans inherit Adam’s guilt. But the committee noted in its report, “Most Southern Baptists believe that those who die before they are capable of moral action go to heaven through the grace of God and the atonement of Christ, even as they differ as to why this is so.”
Among committee members to express their views on the death of infants is Steve Lemke, provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In a 2010 article for Louisiana’s Baptist Message newsjournal, Lemke argued “children are not morally accountable until ‘they are capable of moral action,’” referencing Article III of the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M).
The section of the BF&M Lemke referenced states, “As soon as [humans] are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” Both the 1925 and 1963 editions of the BF&M make similar statements.
Baptists, Lemke wrote, typically “do not believe in inherited guilt.” Drawing on the new covenant prophecies in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 18 among other scriptures, Lemke argued humans “are only accountable under the new covenant for our own sins.” Therefore, “Baptists have always believed that since infants are not yet capable of actual sin, they go to heaven.”
Calvinism Advisory Committee members R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Daniel Akin wrote in a 2009 article, “We are born marked by original sin, and thus we cannot claim that infants are born in a state of innocence.” Yet “we are to be judged on the basis of our deeds committed ‘in the body,’” presumably a reference to 2 Corinthians 5:10.
Scripture “does not teach that we will answer for Adam’s sin,” wrote Mohler and Akin, presidents of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary respectively. Therefore, “heaven will be filled with those who never grew to maturity on earth.”

A historical perspective

Historically, the questions of whether infants bear guilt and the eternal destiny of those dying in infancy have been debated. As Mohler and Akin noted, the fourth-century church father Gregory of Nyssa believed infants, along with all other humans, would have an opportunity after death to confess Christ as Savior. Another fourth-century Christian, Ambrose of Milan, believed baptized infants would go to heaven while unbaptized infants would not, though he said they received immunity from the pain of hell.
The 17th-century Westminster Confession of Faith argued, “Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit ... so also are all other elect persons who are uncapable [sic] of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.” Particular Baptists’ 1689 Second London Confession echoed that assertion, along with its implied distinction between elect and non-elect infants.
In the 18th century, John Wesley, the father of Methodism, dealt with the issue of infant guilt by arguing Christ’s death removed original guilt from every human so that no one is eternally condemned for Adam’s sin, according to an article by Leo Cox in the Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society. Wesley himself wrote that Adam’s sin “is imputed to all men.” But “that any will be damned for this alone, I allow not, till you show me where it is written. Bring me plain proof from scripture, and I submit; but till then, I utterly deny it.”
Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said in an 1861 sermon, “We say, with regard to infants, scripture saith but little, and, therefore, where scripture is confessedly scant, it is for no man to determine dogmatically. But I think I speak for the entire body, or certainly with exceedingly few exceptions, and those unknown to me, when I say, we hold that all infants are elect of God and are therefore saved.”

‘Stand together’ on scripture

Among Baptists today, Wayne Robertson, pastor of Morningside Baptist Church in Valdosta, Ga., takes a position on infant salvation with echoes of several historical figures.
“I do understand that infants are a member of Adam’s fallen race and are born with a sin nature,” Robertson said in written comments. “I believe the scriptures teach that condemnation is based on the rejection of God’s revelation whether general or specific and not based on ignorance of it. I hold the position that the unborn and infants have not comprehended general revelation nor have they been given special revelation and as a result, have not been declared ‘without excuse’ (Romans 1:18-20).
“Therefore, trusting the many scriptures that tell us that Jesus expressed His love for children, such as Matthew 19:13-15, I believe that Christ’s atonement covered the guilt of these infants,” Robertson said.
As Christians continue to discuss the eternal destiny of infants, Melton, of Southern Hills in Oklahoma City, urged charity among those who trust the authority of scripture.
“There’s a whole lot of different interpretations of scripture,” Melton said, “and I believe everyone is trying to stand together on what scripture teaches.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

8/26/2015 2:15:43 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

NCMO a ‘critical resource’ for N.C. Baptists

August 26 2015 by Chad Austin, BSC Communications

September marks the beginning of a month-long emphasis for the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO), an annual offering that supports numerous ministries across the state and beyond.
“The NCMO is the lifeblood of many vital ministries across North Carolina and around the world,” said Richard Brunson, executive director of N.C. Baptist Men (NCBM; also known as Baptists on Mission).
Under the umbrella of N.C. Baptist Men, Brunson’s organization is engaged in 18 different ministries, which include disaster relief, medical and dental missions, and mobilization for various short- and long-term projects.
NCBM and its related ministries are all supported through NCMO, which provides financial support for sharing the gospel with others through acts of love and service in Christ’s name.
The goal of this year’s offering is $2.1 million, and the 2015 offering theme is “So They Know,” which is taken from John 13:34-35. In those verses, Jesus tells His followers that others will know that they are His disciples by the manner in which they demonstrate love and compassion.
“Jesus’ words in that passage are so true,” Brunson said. “People will know that God loves them by the Christ-like love that we show to others. As we minister to hurting people and share Christ’s love, we open many doors for the gospel to be shared, and we make it so people want to know more.”
Brunson said the concept of loving others to Christ is exemplified in the life of Paul Kenny, a New Jersey man who lost his possessions and experienced significant home damage during Hurricane Sandy in 2012
Kenny was skeptical when members of the N.C. Baptist Men disaster relief team showed up to assist him and other N.J. residents, yet he was intrigued about why the relief volunteers would give of themselves to help strangers in need. After working and interacting with the volunteers over time, Kenny placed his faith in Christ and was later baptized last summer.
“It was through the love of those volunteers that he wanted to know more about this Jesus they were telling him about,” Brunson said. “It impacted his life in such a way that he wanted to give his life to Christ. The love those volunteers showed him was uncommon and unexpected for him.”
The NCMO also supports church planting efforts by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. It also funds two mission camps located in Shelby and Red Springs. A percentage of the offering is also returned to Baptist associations across the state to support ministry activities on a local level.
Church planting, particularly among the increasing international community that is moving to North Carolina, is a major emphasis in the state convention’s strategy to impact lostness through disciple-making.
In 2014, the convention worked with 103 new churches – 78 church plants and 25 new affiliate churches. Of the 78 church plants, 39 were non-Anglo congregations that spoke languages other than English. This year, 28 percent of funds received through the NCMO will go directly toward establishing new churches in North Carolina.
“The NCMO is a critical resource for North Carolina Baptists with regards to gospel engagement and church multiplication among the 5.8 million lost residents of our state,” said Chuck Register, who serves as the executive leader for the state convention’s Church Planting and Missions Partnerships group.
“These financial resources help the state convention assist churches, associations and networks in reaching 64 different language groups with the life-transforming message of the gospel and to plant disciple-making churches among these people groups.
“The generosity of North Carolina Baptists to the NCMO helps us help North Carolina Baptists reach the nations in North Carolina.”
Additionally, 10 percent of funds that churches in a local association contribute to the NCMO are returned to that that local association to use toward missions and ministry projects. Associations use these funds in a variety of ways to launch new ministries or expand existing ones to reach more people who need to know Christ.
“Churches who give to the NCMO see their contributions go full circle,” said Lester Evans, who leads the Associational Partnerships Team with the state convention. “They help fund various ministries in North Carolina, across the country and around the world, but a portion comes back and is reinvested at the local level.”
Although September is designated as the month for churches to highlight NCMO and receive contributions for the offerings, donations may be made at any time throughout the year. For more information about the NCMO and the ministries it supports, or to make a contribution, visit

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8/26/2015 12:36:55 PM by Chad Austin, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

NOBTS celebrates redemption on 10th Katrina anniversary

August 26 2015 by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS Public Relations

The story of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s (NOBTS) Katrina decade is immersed in grace and redemption and punctuated by hope. On the tenth anniversary of the storm, the seminary community is counting blessings rather than losses and leaning into the future with anticipation.
“Here we are 10 years later,” said NOBTS President Chuck Kelley. “What is my conclusion? We serve an amazing God who delights in doing awesome work to care for His children and to extend the work of His Kingdom.”
“We are grateful that God was able to pull out of the rubble of Katrina a city of New Orleans that has more energy and has more vitality than it has had in a very long time,” he continued. “And out of the rubble, the seminary is now strong, healthy and doing well.”
During the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting in June, Kelley put an exclamation point on the recovery story when he announced that NOBTS recorded the largest enrollment in school history last school year.


NOBTS file photo
David Burch, center with back to camera, and Alex Aaron, right with back to camera, pray with a seminary family Oct. 5, 2005. Burch and Aaron were volunteers with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Rapid Response Team who spent five days on campus ministering to hurting students, staff members and professors.

The future looked much bleaker after Katrina slammed ashore east of New Orleans Aug. 29, 2005. The storm left a wide path of destruction stretching from New Orleans to Mobile, Ala.
Multiple levee failures around the city left 70 percent of New Orleans underwater. Sixty percent of the seminary’s campus housing received significant damage. Students were scattered across 29 states; the faculty evacuated to nine states. The task of training ministers was put on hold.
Three days after the storm, NOBTS administrators summoned key faculty and staff members to Atlanta to formulate a relief and recovery plan. Courses were reformulated into an online, discussion format and a plan was developed to relaunch classes in October.
Eighty-five percent of the students who were enrolled at the main campus before the storm opted to continue their studies online or at one of the seminary’s extension centers that semester.


A call to return

Meeting on Sept. 26 and 27, 2005, less than a month after the storm, the NOBTS trustees convened in Atlanta to discuss the future of the school. Kelley reviewed the damage with the trustees and presented a plan to restore the campus. New Orleans-area contractor Mike Moskau assured the trustees that a full restoration could be completed in time for the 2006 fall semester.
In their discussions, many of the trustees expressed the desire to rebuild the New Orleans campus as a “call” from God. With awareness of the monument task facing the seminary, the board unanimously approved a return New Orleans. “Our trustees looked into the unknown, but they looked at it with the lens of the grace and redeeming power of God and the needs of Southern Baptist churches and the opportunity to reach a broken city,” said Kelley. “And they said, ‘We want to be all in.’”
Financial help poured in from Southern Baptist Convention entities, state conventions and individual SBC churches. Early on, the money helped address the human side of the storm, providing financial assistance to the displaced members of the NOBTS community. Later, the gifts and volunteer labor helped the seminary offset rebuilding expenses that were not covered by insurance. The reconstruction took eight months and the campus reopened in time for the fall 2006 semester. The cost of the rebuilding project swelled to $75 million.

A new day for the gospel

New Orleans, now on the cusp of its 300-year anniversary, experienced dramatic changes following Katrina. One of the most notable changes, a new openness to the gospel, can be traced to the Southern Baptists and other evangelicals who poured into the city to help provide relief and recovery.
“There is an openness to our witness that never existed before,” Kelley said. “I don’t know how long we will see this. It’s already waning some, but there has been an openness to the gospel in the city of New Orleans that was not present before the storm.”


NOBTS file photo
New Orleans Seminary students Melinda and Justin Langford look over the remains of their first-floor apartment. The couple moved into the apartment – and painted all the rooms – two weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit, destroying all of their possessions.

Southern Baptists responded to the relief needs in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region in unprecedented numbers. They cleaned and restored homes, they listened to heartrending stories of loss and they lovingly shared the gospel. According to Kelley, the response has forever changed the image of Baptists in the city.
The city has experienced an economic and cultural renaissance since the storm. The movie industry and tech startups have joined tourism as leading economic drivers. The food and music industries are flourishing. Creativity is in the air. The public school system, notoriously underperforming before Katrina, is experiencing dramatic reform. This renaissance is bringing young people to the city in unprecedented numbers.
“Millennials are flooding to the city. This is the largest influx of young adults in the history of New Orleans,” Kelley said. “It just feels vibrant.”
The fresh energy in New Orleans has spilled over to the seminary community. In recent years, Kelley has seen students become more engaged in the life of city. Many embrace the city rather than fear it. They want to be involved in the energy and they are looking for innovative ways to have a greater witness for Christ in New Orleans, he said.
“They just aren’t threatened by the city anymore,” Kelley said. “New Orleans is still a challenging place, but it’s a place where a higher percentage of our students become excited about and embrace.”
That has not always been the case. When Kelley was a student 40 years ago, he said it was common for students only to leave campus for church, to buy groceries and an occasional trip to get coffee and beignets.
“Now there is a general sense of concern, care, respect and love for the city, rather than fear and intimidation. That’s a very good thing,” Kelley said. “Southern Baptists have always been strong in small towns. We have to learn how to do life and to enjoy life in the urban context in order to reach cities for Christ. We are watching the students of NOBTS do exactly that.”
Kelley said that reaching the millennial generation is shaping up as the greatest challenge in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention. However, as millennials flock to New Orleans, he hopes the seminary and local churches will find ways to reach them with the gospel.

NOBTS challenges, opportunities

While the students who come to the NOBTS main campus in New Orleans are more engaged in the city than ever, Kelley acknowledges that it has been harder to get students to move to New Orleans since the storm.
Only part of that can be attributed to Katrina and the difficulties of the urban context. The changing landscape of higher education accounts for much of the shift. Accessibility, a long-time buzzword at NOBTS, has become the norm in higher education. While NOBTS celebrated the largest enrollment in school history last year, a larger percentage of those students are studying at extension centers and online than ever before.
“Our strategy for pushing seminary training off of the main campus is what prepared us to survive the Katrina experience,” Kelley said. “Katrina was a time machine for the future of theological education. Our once avant garde strategy is now the mainstream of theological education.”
Kelley doesn’t see residential theological education going away anytime soon, but he believes fewer seminary graduates will earn their degree exclusively on a residential campus. He believes this is the future at most seminaries, not just NOBTS. Students are tailoring their education to their calling and life circumstances. This is driving the accessibility efforts throughout theological education. Kelley said NOBTS will continued to innovate to meet the needs of students and churches.
Funding has been and will continue to be a challenge for NOBTS, he said. The accessibility initiatives are more expensive and receive less Cooperative Program (CP) funding than traditional models. The CP provides less support extension center students and no funding for online students.
“We have to remember that God is the one doing the calling,” Kelley said. “So when people are answering the call of God, we have to figure out a way to train them and prepare them that connects with their calling. God’s call to them is a call to us. We are called to teach them.”

Lasting lessons of Katrina

During his long look back on the decade of recovery Kelley is still amazed by God’s “inexhaustible supply of redemption.” His biggest take away from the Katrina experience is that no matter what the believer is facing, he or she can put aside fear and trust solely on God.
“Katrina did not take God by surprise nor worry Him about how he would care for me and our seminary, our seminary family, all Baptist work in the city, all the people who stayed,” Kelley said. “Our God is a redeemer and He is able to take any circumstance we are in and out of it, bring glory to His name and good to His people.”

8/26/2015 12:25:50 PM by Gary D. Myers, NOBTS Public Relations | with 0 comments

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