August 2016

Chaplains relay ‘glimpses of hope’ amid flood crisis

August 26 2016 by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS

The catastrophic flooding in south Louisiana is quite different for Southern Baptist chaplains in the National Guard than anything they have seen before and, at the same time, all too familiar.

Photo by Marilyn Stewart
National Guard chaplains meet with their colleague Thomas Fletcher, center, who also pastors flood-damaged Faith Baptist Church in Baker, La. From left are chaplain’s assistant Richard Watkins; Chaplain Major Page Brooks of the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team; Fletcher; and Faith Baptist youth minister Matt Robertson.

Brigade Chaplain Page Brooks, a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) faculty member serving with Louisiana’s 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said even though record rainfall and flooding didn’t come from a named storm, the devastation is much the same.
“This reminds me of other natural disasters, the sense of loss, of panic, and hurt that Louisianans have experienced before,” Brooks said. “There’s just such surprise.”
Upwards of 31 inches fell in a day’s time in the hardest-hit areas of Livingston Parish, according to an Aug. 16 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report.
Brooks said some evacuees reported rushing from their homes as water came in; others had less than three hours to prepare. Some lived in places that had never flooded before.
National Guard chaplains care for the caregivers, such as first responders who plucked people out of raging water and rescued people off rooftops. Of the chaplains led by Brooks from Jackson Barracks in New Orleans, one was not activated – Chaplain Thomas Fletcher, pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Baker and an NOBTS alumnus, whose home and church had flooded.
“It’s brutal. It’s absolutely devastating,” Fletcher recounted of the flooding that invaded the homes of about half of Faith Baptist’s church members.

Photo by Marilyn Stewart
Piles of debris from the flood-damaged parsonage at Faith Baptist Church in Baker, La., await removal.

Fletcher watched from the second story of the church educational building as the water rose inside the parsonage and the worship center before a boat dropped off a senior adult neighbor, a disabled woman from Brazil and her daughter at the church. Before the water crested, the group at the church had swelled to 10.
The last few years have been difficult for Faith Baptist materially and emotionally, Fletcher said, recounting that a financial crisis had drained the church’s resources, forcing them to forego flood insurance and put off needed structural changes.
“We were in a rebuilding process already,” Fletcher said.
With mounds of debris continuing to grow in front of each home on the street, Fletcher spoke in simple words of the magnitude of the task ahead.
“It’s a big problem,” the pastor said, requesting prayer. “We’ve got a big God.”

Weathering the storm

Chaplain Phil Smith, an NOBTS alumnus, made his rounds at an evacuee shelter at the River Center of Baton Rouge asking soldiers and airmen at work, “How are you doing?”
His job, Smith said, is to help servicemen and women remain resilient.
Using Scripture such as Jeremiah 31:3, Hebrews 13:5-6 and Romans 8:28, Smith reminded those in his charge that God loves them and keeps His promises, a truth that crosses all belief systems and denominations, particularly in crisis situations.
Smith pointed to hurts and disappointments in his own life that he didn’t understand at the time but God used later to bless him and to prepare him for his job as a chaplain.
“In my own life, when God took away good things, I found out He was making room for the best things,” Smith said.
Helping those caught in a crisis situation requires an approach tempered with wisdom and patience, chaplains report.
Rather than saying “it’s only things” or “at least you are safe” to those impacted by flooding or other disasters, Smith advised using questions such as “Is your spouse safe? Are your children safe?” to help victims keep things in perspective and find their way to hope.
Brooks cautioned that those in a crisis situation may “relive” past disasters or unresolved heartache may resurface when a new crisis arises.
“This may bring up past loss,” Brooks said. “People may cycle through grief and loss again, and they will need to be given the space and time to do that.”
Brooks praised the relief effort, noting that disaster relief operations have run smoothly and that communities, families and churches across Louisiana have come together to help.
“Everyone needs a sense of hope,” Brooks said. “This is where the church comes in with the gospel, with chaplains, with people caring for one another. The small acts of taking food or helping someone in their home, praying with someone, those small acts provide little glimpses of hope along the way in the process of recovery.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marilyn Stewart is assistant director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

Related articles:
Amid Louisiana flooding, social media conveys hope
SBDR deploying 4 kitchens to south Louisiana
Flood relief to extend ‘as far as the eye can see’
Volunteers continue to aid Louisiana flood survivors

8/26/2016 6:51:25 AM by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS | with 0 comments

Aponte named as IMB vice president of mobilization

August 25 2016 by Harper McKay, Baptist Press

During their August 23-24 board meeting, International Mission Board (IMB) trustees announced Edgar Aponte, director of Hispanic leadership development at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS), as the IMB’s new vice president of mobilization in late fall.
“Edgar Aponte is an incredibly talented man of God. The Lord has blessed him with a wide range of abilities and talents,” said SEBTS President Danny Akin. “This is a sad day for Southeastern and me personally. However, it is a great day for the IMB and the advancement of the Kingdom. He goes to our very close sister entity with my blessings and prayers.”

IMB photo by Roy M. Burroughs
Edgar Aponte, left, receives a warm welcome as International Mission Board (IMB) vice president of mobilization from David Platt, IMB president, during the Aug. 24 trustee meeting. Aponte is director of Hispanic leadership development and instructor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

Aponte has faithfully served SEBTS since 2013, teaching theology, overseeing Spanish programs and working with seminary partnerships in Latin America. In his new role with the IMB, Aponte will serve on the executive leadership team with a focus on mobilization. He will lead networking efforts among churches to encourage the sending of limitless missionary teams and will develop relationships between the IMB and Southern Baptist entities. Aponte will also continue to teach courses for SEBTS.
“The role of mobilization is a significant one for the IMB, and Edgar Aponte is a godly man who wants churches involved in reaching the nations for Christ,” said SEBTS dean of graduate studies and professor of evangelism and missions Chuck Lawless. “We will miss him at Southeastern Seminary, but I’m glad to have him as part of the IMB leadership team. I trust that his time at our Great Commission seminary has helped prepare him for this task.”
Originally from the Dominican Republic, Aponte previously served as minister counselor for political affairs at the Embassy of the Dominican Republic in Washington, D.C. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the National University Pedro Herniquez Urena in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; a graduate degree in corporate finance from Santo Domingo Institute of Technology; a master’s degree in business administration from Strayer University in Arlington, Va.; a master’s degree in Christian ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; and a doctoral degree in theological studies from SEBTS.
Edgar and his wife, Sara, have three children and attend Christ Covenant Church in Raleigh, N.C.
“We are Southern Baptists because of missions,” said Aponte in a recent visit with IMB mobilization team leaders. “Missions is the heart of who we are as a denomination…taking the gospel to where Christ has not been preached. Working together, we can do more than working by ourselves.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Harper McKay is the news and information specialist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Julie McGowan, public relations leader for IMB, contributed to this story.)

8/25/2016 4:29:42 PM by Harper McKay, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ERLC’s Duke top candidate for Montana exec

August 25 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Religious liberty advocate Barrett Duke has emerged as the top candidate for executive directorship of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention (MTSBC).
Bruce Speer, heading the MTSBC eight-member search team for the post, said Duke will receive the team’s unanimous recommendation for the executive directorship at the group’s annual meeting this fall.
“We did an exhaustive study of qualifications needed and interviewed five excellent candidates. And Barrett was head and shoulders above all other candidates we interviewed,” Speer said Aug. 23. “His experience both as a church planter and working closely with leaders in our government, we felt was an excellent combination to provide us the leadership we are looking for in our state.”

Barrett Duke
Duke, vice president of the Washington, D.C., office for Public Policy and Research of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and director of the ERLC Research Institute, told Baptist Press (BP) he appreciates the chance to get closer to the local church.
“I am extremely excited about the opportunity to serve Montana Southern Baptists in this role,” the former Colorado church planter told BP. “I am deeply moved by the genuineness of the pastors and churches I have met since we started this conversation. There are many very godly, dedicated men and women serving the Lord in that great state. My wife and I would consider it a blessing to work with them.”
Duke will be recommended to the MTSBC executive board for the post Sept. 8 and to messengers at the Montana annual meeting in October, Speer said, describing Montana Baptists as “extremely delighted and pleased” that God has brought Duke to serve in the state. He characterized Duke as “a man of great integrity.”
Duke would lead the convention of about 135 churches in a state where less than 1 percent of adults are Southern Baptists and 38 percent of adults never or seldom attend church, according to the Pew Research 2015 Religious Landscape Study.
“Ever since my days planting and pastoring a church in Denver, Colo., the West has held a special place in my and my wife’s [Denise] heart,” Duke told BP. “The lostness across the West is heartbreaking, and the number of churches in comparison to the number of lost people burdens us deeply.
“We would consider it a great privilege and blessing to be able to return to the West and serve Montana Southern Baptists as they work to fulfill God’s calling to win the lost, make disciples, and serve as salt and light,” he said. “God has already joined our hearts to theirs.”
He would serve as the MTSBC chief operating officer, the treasurer and chief financial officer, the official director of MTSBC work and ministries, the director and supervisor of MTSBC staff and North American Mission Board missionaries in the state, and the editor of the Montana Baptist electronic newsletter.
ERLC president Russell Moore described Duke as “a man of conviction, humility and Christ-likeness.”
“It has been my joy to serve with him at the ERLC, and Southern Baptists have benefited from 20 years of his leadership here,” Moore said. “Montana Baptists will be served well by this remarkable Christian leader.”
Duke would replace Fred Hewitt, who is retiring in October from the executive director’s post he has held nearly nine years.
As leader of the ERLC’s advocacy arm, Duke communicates Southern Baptist convictions to elected and public officials, including President Obama, Congress and their staffs to encourage sound public policy. Duke is a founding fellow of the ERLC Research Institute, overseeing research on pressing moral and religious liberty issues, and working with a group of 70 distinguished fellows.
A former pastor, he is also active as a teacher, preacher, speaker, writer and editor, and holds a doctor of philosophy in religious and theological studies from the joint doctoral program of the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver. He and his wife attend church in Annapolis, Md., and have three grown children.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor.)
8/25/2016 4:29:26 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sexual identity report lauded as pastor resource

August 25 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A report by two Johns Hopkins psychiatry scholars debunking myths about homosexuality and transgenderism has been cited by a pastor who specializes in mental health care issues as a valuable aid for ministry to those struggling with sexual identity.

“The article represents some of the most clear-headed thinking that I have read on the volatile subject of sexual identity,” said Tony Rose, who chaired Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank S. Page’s Mental Health Advisory Council. “The tenor of the authors is worthy of being imitated.
“I am in agreement with the article’s stated primary concern – the unusual amount of traumatic mental and emotional health experiences found among the population of humans who struggle with sexual identity issues,” Rose, pastor of LaGrange (Ky.) Baptist Church, told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “The church could learn from this model of compassion and seek to meet this observable need.”
The three-part report in the fall edition of The New Atlantis journal by Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh, both of the psychiatry department at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, draws on more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific studies and argues:

  • The idea sexual orientation is “an innate, biologically fixed property of human beings – the idea that people are ‘born that way’ – is not supported by scientific evidence.”
  • The “elevated risk” among homosexual and transgender individuals “for a variety of adverse mental health outcomes” cannot be explained fully as the result of “social stressors” like discrimination and harassment.
  • The idea that gender identity is “an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex” is not supported by scientific evidence.

Mayer, the report’s lead author, writes in the preface that he “strongly support[s] equality ... for the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] community” and that the report “is about science and medicine, nothing more and nothing less.”
McHugh previously has expressed public skepticism regarding the effectiveness of gender reassignment surgery in improving the mental health of people suffering from gender dysphoria – the condition of not feeling at home in one’s God-given body in terms of gender.
Rose said “pastors should take the time to read this article for several reasons. One reason is to observe the skill of serious research from an objective perspective. It appears the authors worked hard to keep personal preference from getting in the way of their research findings.”
Alan Branch, a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary ethics professor whose book Born This Way? draws similar conclusions to Mayer and McHugh, told BP, “A careful review of research on homosexuality will demonstrate that the church should not change its biblical stance that sex is designed by God to be experienced in a heterosexual and monogamous marriage.
“Christian mercy demands both that we stand firm on the biblical stance while showing mercy to those who desire to overcome homosexual temptation and live as a faithful disciple following biblical sexual ethics. But mercy does not mean we compromise what God’s Word says. If God’s Word is true, compromise would be the most unmerciful thing we could do,” Branch said in written comments.
He added, “The ‘born this way’ claim is an inaccurate and truncated description of findings to date.”
Among other conclusions of Mayer and McHugh’s report:

  • Studies of identical twins “make clear that genetic influences cannot be the whole” cause of same-sex sexual attraction, though genetic factors likely play a role.
  • Without further research, “the idea that sexual abuse may be a causal factor in sexual orientation remains speculative.”
  • “Compared to the general population, non-heterosexual and transgender subpopulations have higher rates of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and suicide, as well as behavioral and social problems such as substance abuse and intimate partner violence.”
  • “Almost nothing is well understood when we seek biological explanations for what causes some individuals to state that their gender does not match their biological sex.”
  • “There is little scientific evidence that gender identity is fixed at birth or at an early age” or that an individual can possess the brain of one sex and the body of another.
  • It is “especially troubling” that “drastic interventions” like hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery “are prescribed and delivered to patients identifying, or identified, as transgender,” including children.
  • “The majority of children who identify as the gender opposite their biological sex will not continue to do so as adults.”

Mayer and McHugh close their report by arguing, “Everyone – scientists and physicians, parents and teachers, lawmakers and activists – deserves access to accurate information about sexual orientation and gender identity.
“While there is much controversy surrounding how our society treats its LGBT members, no political or cultural views should discourage us from understanding the related clinical and public health issues and helping people suffering from mental health problems that may be connected to their sexuality.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
Related articles:
NYC bathroom order called ‘one-way tolerance’
Transgenderism is growing ministry focus
White House transgender order called ‘outrageous’
‘I was born this way’ countered by professor

8/25/2016 4:21:36 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

South Sudanese soldiers assault Western aid workers

August 25 2016 by Onize Ohikere, WORLD News Service

South Sudanese troops raped and assaulted several foreigners and aid workers in a hotel complex, singling out Americans, after winning a battle last month against opposition forces, witnesses told The Associated Press. United Nations (UN) peacekeepers and several embassies, including the U.S. Embassy, failed to respond to the calls for help.

IMB file photo

On July 8, renewed fighting began between the armed forces of the warring President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar. Throughout the weekend, bullets flew through the Terrain hotel compound, a facility frequented by foreigners and South Sudanese elites. By July 11, the government forces had nearly defeated Machar’s troops and both parties prepared to call for a cease-fire.
After the battle, government forces made their way into the Terrain complex and began a rampage that lasted nearly four hours. Residents said the building shook as soldiers shot at the metal door of a two-story apartment block in the compound. One Ugandan staff member said he saw between 80 and 100 men break open the gate and go door-to-door, harassing guests and collecting items.
“They were very excited, very drunk, under the influence of something, almost a mad state, walking around shooting rounds inside the rooms,” one American said.
The soldiers went on to assault, rape, and shoot people. A report by the hotel’s owner said the soldiers raped at least five women, and carried out torture, mock executions, beatings and looting. One Western aid worker said 15 soldiers raped her.
Several survivors said the soldiers specifically asked if they were American. The soldiers beat one American with belts and the butts of their guns for about an hour.
“You tell your embassy how we treated you,” the soldiers said when they released him.
Kiir’s side declared a ceasefire at 6 p.m., but the assault at the Terrain continued. Gian Libot, a Philippine citizen who witnessed the attack, said one soldier ranted against foreigners.
“He definitely had pronounced hatred against America,” Libot said.
He recalled the soldier accusing Americans of messing up the country and saying UN officials support the rebels.
The soldiers shot dead John Gatluak, a South Sudanese journalist who worked for the USAID-funded Internews. Gatluak’s tribal marks revealed his identity as a Nuer, the same tribe as the opposition leader, Machar. The soldiers pushed him to the floor and beat him, one woman said. One soldier shouted “Nuer,” and another soldier shot him twice in the head. He shot him four more times as he lay on the ground.
People in the compound began sending messages by text, Facebook, and via emails when the attack began.
“All of us were contacting whoever we could contact,” said the woman raped 15 times. “The UN, the U.S. Embassy, contacting the specific battalions in the UN, contacting specific departments.”
The victims contacted the UN’s joint operations center in the capital, Juba, and the UN mission’s Department of Safety and Security. About three hours later, the Department of Safety and Security said it “would not send a team.” UN officials said they are currently investigating the incident.
“Obviously, we regret the loss of life and the violence that the people who were in Hotel Terrain endured, and we take this incident very seriously,” said Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesman for the UN secretary-general. “As you’re aware, we have called on the national authorities to investigate this incident thoroughly and to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
In a similar attack last month, several witnesses said UN peacekeepers failed to intervene when soldiers raped some South Sudanese women outside the UN’s main camp.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Truedeau told reporters the U.S. Embassy “was not in a position to intervene,” after it received several calls for help. Trudeau said the U.S. ambassador reached out to local government officials instead.
South Sudanese security forces eventually entered the hotel compound and rescued all but three Western women and about 16 of the hotel’s staff. A private security firm rescued the remaining people the next morning.
“South Sudanese leaders have time and again failed to end abuses against civilians, been unwilling to rein in abusive forces or ensure justice for crimes by those under their command,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director for Human Rights Watch. “Top leaders need to be sanctioned and an arms embargo imposed.”

Related articles:
South Sudan’s crisis stirs call to prayer

8/25/2016 4:19:32 PM by Onize Ohikere, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Christian persecution rising in India, report says

August 25 2016 by Morning Star News

Persecution of Christians in India increased dramatically the first half of 2016 and is on pace to far exceed cases the previous two years, a new independent report found.

IMB file photo

The 134 incidents of violence against Christians in India chronicled Jan. 1-June 30 of this year were “just a fraction of the violence on the ground,” the Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Religious Liberty Commission (EFIRLC) noted in its report, “Hate and Targeted Violence Against Christians in India.”
The incidents noted in six months compared to 147 incidents in all of 2014 and 177 in 2015, the EFIRLC said. Of major cases of violence against Christians across 21 of India’s 29 states, the report places Uttar Pradesh as leading the list with 25, followed by Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh with 17 and 15 respectively.
Physical violence, arrests on false allegations and stopping church services were frequent crimes, with attacks on churches, vandalizing and threats also recurring. One person was reported to have been murdered because of his faith.
“In Bastar, Chhattisgarh, religious fanatics attacked a church and tried to set a pastor and his pregnant wife on fire after thrashing them at remote Tokapal in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region,” the report states. “The pastor and his wife managed to escape after they were beaten up and doused with petrol. The attackers destroyed the electronic equipment at the church, besides thrashing the pastor’s children and setting ablaze scriptures and furniture. The FIR [First Information Report] stated the assailants were well-armed and even tried to burn the pastor’s house.”
Hindu extremist splinter factions affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, including various local units, were the groups most often behind the violence, said the report that is backed by independent fact-finding surveys.
Though anti-Christian violence is assumed to be more widespread across the north Indian states, Tamil Nadu in the south rose to fourth position on the list with 14 incidents, some extremely brutal.
A pastor from Kambam in Theni District of Tamil Nadu was attacked during a worship service Jan. 17. Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) activists attacked his head with a heavy, sharp object, leaving him to what they supposed would be his death. Emergency treatment for profuse bleeding saved his life, the report said.
Telangana, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh were the other southern states making it onto the list with seven, six and two cases respectively.

‘Freedom of Religion’ acts

In many incidents, Christians were accused of conversion by force or allurement and charged under so-called Freedom of Religion Acts after they were harassed, threatened and thrashed. The acts, popularly known as anti-conversion laws, declare conversion by force, allurement or fraudulent means to be criminal. Radical Hindu groups commonly use them to falsely implicate Christians.
In Dhar District of Madhya Pradesh, for example, Balu Sastya and his wife, Bhuri, both blind, were called to pray for a sick person. When they had gathered at the house of the sick person along with 11 others, a mob of more than 50 people with sticks and stones surrounded the house.
The extremists uttered abusive words and threatened to kill Sastya and his companions, but when police arrived, the crowd filed a complaint against him and others, accusing them of attempting to convert gullible villagers by promising them physical healing. Sastya, his wife, and their 3-year-old son had to spend two days and three nights in jail before they were released on bail.
Even in states like Uttar Pradesh, where such laws do not exist, propagation of one’s faith, especially Christianity, is generally misperceived as illegal because of laws in place in other areas.

Police impunity

At least 10 arrests and repeated cases of false allegations hint at the hand-in-glove relationship between non-state actors and local administrators. In many cases, the local administration and police refused to act and openly sided with the assailants, the report said.
Hindu radicals in Digal village of Malkangiri District in Odisha state (formerly Orissa) threatened Christians early this year, warning them to leave the village for worshipping Jesus Christ. As the Christians were on their way to a police station Jan. 19, the Hindu extremists ambushed and beat them in the presence of local police who refused to help the Christians.


The escalation of anti-Christian violence was consistently related to city and state election seasons, particularly in Uttar Pradesh where elections will be held in early 2017, and in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
One of the most infamous cases from Uttar Pradesh state was that of pastor Avdhesh Savita in Orai town, Jalaun District. Members of the Hindu extremist Youth Brigade (Yuvavahini) on Jan. 29 kidnapped Savita under the guise of policemen, beat him brutally, shaved half of his head, eyebrows and mustache, and paraded him on a donkey for about half an hour. The pastor was later charged with forcible conversion.

Tribal culture

Findings from Bastar District in Chhattisgarh state, central India, suggest systematic attempts to persecute Christian minorities. Such attempts include hate campaigns and misuse of laws that grant rights of self-governance and preservation of culture to tribal (Adivasi) villages.
Hindu radical groups have succeeded in associating local cultural and customs legislation with Hindu religious practices, denouncing everything non-Hindu as a threat to their culture and identity. The legislation is intended to restrict Christians from practicing and propagating their faith.
Founded in 1951, the national Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) articulates biblical values, trains partnering members, addresses advocacy issues, and advocates for the poor and marginalized, according to its website
To combat Christian persecution, EFI recommends the enactment of comprehensive hate crimes legislation; training police on human rights and religious freedom standards and practices; repealing anti-conversion laws; ensuring every state has an active, non-partisan Commission for Human Rights and a Commission for Minorities, and the prevention and prosecution of all violent acts against religious and tribal minorities and castes.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Morning Star News is a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide. Used by permission.)

8/25/2016 4:19:05 PM by Morning Star News | with 0 comments

Transgender debate continues as students return

August 24 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

As students return to their classrooms, the Obama administration’s transgender directive continues to provoke a variety of responses among America’s public schools.
On one end of the spectrum, states like Massachusetts, California and Washington have embraced the administration’s May directive that public schools and universities must allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their perceived gender identity rather than their biological sex. Some local school boards have responded positively as well, as in Charlotte, N.C., where the school board adopted a policy requiring teachers to use pronouns and names that reflect students’ chosen gender identity.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, 24 states have mounted legal challenges to the administration’s directive spread over three separate lawsuits. In one of those lawsuits involving 11 states, a federal judge in Texas ruled Aug. 21 that the Obama administration may not enforce its directive. The ruling adds to the varied and ambiguous landscape of court decisions on the matter.
Various school districts and parent groups – including some whose state and local government leaders have embraced the directive – also have filed lawsuits.
At issue in the legal challenges is whether the Departments of Education and Justice may regard so-called gender identity discrimination as included among sex discrimination under Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972 – even though the original legislation says nothing about gender identity.
This month, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked a lower court ruling requiring a Virginia school district to abolish restroom and locker room divisions based on biological sex alone until the matter is settled in court.
Matt Sharp, an attorney with the conservative legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), told Baptist Press privacy and emotional protection of students who have been sexually abused are two key reasons to oppose the administration’s directive.
Courts have ruled that even prisoners have a right not to be “forced to be in any state of undress around someone of the opposite sex,” Sharp said. If the incarcerated retain that right, then surely public school children do as well.

In addition, Sharp said, the approximately one in 10 students who have been sexually abused can experience “trigger events” that cause them to relive psychological trauma when a person of the same sex that previously abused them violates “their private, safe place” in a locker room or restroom.
Among local developments across the country:
Ohio’s Highland Local School District south of Cleveland is suing the Departments of Education and Justice over their threats to withhold federal funding from programs for special needs and underprivileged children unless the district allows a transgender student access to “intimate facilities” designated for students of the opposite sex, according to an ADF news release.
The district has allowed the transgender student at issue to use single-occupancy restrooms and consented to other requests as well, ADF said. But the student’s guardian filed a complaint nonetheless.
– Fifty-one families in Chicago-area Palatine, Ill., sued the federal government after a local school opened girls’ restrooms to a student who is biologically male without informing parents, according to an ADF release. The district later opened locker rooms to the boy after the Department of Education threatened to cut federal funding.
– The Fort Worth (Texas) Independent School District backtracked last month after issuing a policy in April restricting the amount of information schools could provide parents regarding their child’s gender transition, according to The Dallas Morning News. A revised policy, issued July 20 following a public outcry, states parents must be aware of their child’s gender identity issues before special accommodations will be granted.
– In Charlotte, a June 20 training for public school faculty and staff by the local school district urged teachers to “avoid gender specific classroom management techniques,” according to a PowerPoint presentation delivered at the training and given to Baptist Press by the North Carolina Values Coalition. Among the district’s suggestions for teachers were to avoid grouping students according to sex and to refer to them as “scholars” or “students” rather than “boys and girls.”
The presentation also stated, “Inadvertent slips may occur. Intentional refusals to use a transgender student’s preferred name/pronoun violate this regulation.”
Charlotte schools will not, however, allow students to use restrooms based on gender identity until the Virginia court case is resolved, The Charlotte Observer reported Aug. 4, noting that case was the basis for some of the district’s policies.
Sharp, of ADF, said an overarching issue in the pending court cases is, “Do states have the right to [handle] this issue on their own, or does the federal government get to mandate what every school in the country must do when it comes to restroom, locker room and other private facility access?”
If the Supreme Court accepts a case regarding transgender restroom access this term, it likely would be decided in the spring or summer of 2017.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

Related articles:
Texas says, ‘Come and take it,’ over transgender directive
Does transgender bathroom policy enable predators?
White House transgender order called ‘outrageous’
Transgender directive challenged by 10 more states
Transgender debate continues over Obama directive

8/24/2016 8:27:19 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Starr cuts ties with scandal-rocked Baylor

August 24 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Ken Starr has resigned his law professorship at Baylor University, cutting final ties with the Baptist school rocked by allegations that it mishandled sexual assault allegations and intimidated female students who complained.

Twitter photo

“Frankly, the university determined that it wanted a break in the employment relationship, so I’ve accepted that decision and will, of course, honor the decision,” the Waco Tribune quoted Starr Aug. 19. “Nothing changes my love and respect for Baylor.”
The years-long sexual assault scandal centered on the behavior of the university students, including football players and fraternity members, and university leaders’ handling of reports of sexual abuse and assault, including rape. Baylor is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
Starr had served as university president until his termination from that post in May, when an investigation by the Pepper Hamilton LLC law firm found what was deemed “fundamental failure” by Baylor to implement Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013. Days later, Starr resigned the university chancellorship, retaining his position as the Louise L. Morrison Chair of Constitutional Law.
Baylor said Starr’s final separation from the university was mutual.
“The mutually agreed separation comes with the greatest respect and love Judge Starr has for Baylor and with Baylor’s recognition and appreciation for Judge Starr’s many contributions to Baylor,” according to an Aug. 19 joint statement on the university’s website. “Baylor wishes Judge Ken Starr well in his future endeavors. Judge Starr expresses his thanks to the Baylor family for the opportunity to serve as president and chancellor and is grateful for his time with the exceptional students of Baylor University who will lead and serve around the world.”

New Baylor arrest

As interim president David Garland works to implement the 112 recommendations made in the Pepper Hamilton investigation report, the scandal has continued to unfold.
Baylor offensive lineman Rami Hammad was arrested Aug. 1 and charged with third-degree felony stalking of a Baylor student who told police Hammad had followed her multiple times and assaulted her twice since she ended their relationship in May, ESPN Outside the Lines reported Aug. 4.
A Baylor student reported last fall to Baylor’s Title IX office that Hammad sexually assaulted her, ESPN reported.
“She said she didn’t report the incident to police because she did not perceive what happened to be rape, and she said she was worried about the repercussions of reporting a football player,” the Outside the Lines report states. But Hammad continued to play on the team and was not suspended until the Aug. 1 stalking arrest.
Hammad was released from jail Aug. 2 on a $5,000 surety bond, the Waco Tribune reported, and remains suspended from the team.
Among sexual assault cases under Starr’s watch, former Baylor defensive end Tevin Elliott was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $10,000 in 2014 for sexually assaulting a student at a party, and football player Sam Ukwuachu was convicted in 2015 of sexually assaulting a university soccer player. Ukwuachu was sentenced to 180 days in jail, 10 years of felony probation and 400 hours of community service.
Shawn Oakman, a member of Baylor’s 2015 team, was arrested on a sexual assault charge in April, the Waco Tribune reported.
After the Pepper Hamilton investigation, the university’s board of regents also created a new full-time position of chief compliance officer to report directly to the president’s office, sanctioned and placed on probation athletic director Ian McCaw, fired additional but unnamed members of the administration and athletics programs, clarified the roles of several departmental staff members and committed to institute “robust training” before the fall 2016 semester.
The university terminated in May head football coach Art Briles.
Starr had served as Baylor president since 2010 and as chancellor since 2013. He is noted as a former federal judge and special prosecutor who pursued several allegations against former U.S. President Bill Clinton, including sexual misconduct involving Monica Lewinsky.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

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8/24/2016 8:26:45 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Volunteers continue to aid Louisiana flood survivors

August 24 2016 by Carmen K. Sisson, NAMB

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers continue flood recovery efforts across south Louisiana, coping with intermittent rain as they tear out insulation, sweep mud from houses and carry buckets of sodden clothing to curbs.

Photo by Carmen K. Sisson/NAMB
Homeowner Fay McDowell hugs Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer Gary Tracy, a member of Northern Hill Baptist Church in Holt, Mo., following a prayer meeting at her house, Aug. 22, in Baton Rouge, La. McDowell is one of tens of thousands of Louisiana residents whose homes were damaged by floods in mid-August. Skinner, along with other SBDR volunteers from Missouri, is helping tear out sheetrock and spray fungicide to prevent mold from growing in McDowell’s home

Few areas were left unscathed last week when nearly 7 trillion gallons of rain fell, killing 13 people and damaging more than 60,000 homes in 20 parishes. State officials estimate the damages will exceed $20 billion, making the 500-year flood event one of the worst disasters to strike the United States since Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
The damage begins in Hammond, La., and extends 160 miles west toward the Texas border. Along Interstate 12, once lush foliage is withered and gray. Trash flanks fences. Advertisements for home guttings become more numerous with every mile.
Neighborhoods and side streets tell a heartbreaking story. Clothes, mattresses and household furniture lay strewn across wet lawns in hopes that the sun will shine long enough to dry them. Everything that was not salvageable is piled high along the roadways, transforming shady lanes to narrow pathways, children’s toys providing the occasional jolt of color.
Even some of the most seasoned volunteers were surprised by both the scope and intensity of the damage. A few weeks ago, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) chaplain Roy Christy, a member of Northern Hills Baptist Church in Holt, Mo., was tearing out walls in flood-damaged Texas. This week, he is assessing homes and offering emotional support to flood survivors in Baton Rouge, where more than 19 inches of rain fell in 15 hours. In Watson, La., northeast of Baton Rouge, more than 31 inches of rain fell.

Photo by Carmen K. Sisson/NAMB
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers Gary Tracy (left) and Roy Christy, members of Northern Hills Baptist Church in Holt, Mo., examine homeowner Fay McDowell’s kitchen in Baton Rouge, La. McDowell, 82, is a member of Zoar Baptist Church and evacuated to the church building when floodwaters overtook her home.

“The damage is impressive, very extensive,” Christy said. “But the people here help each other out a lot. They’re very focused on the community, not just themselves.” Christy and his team are working out of Zoar Baptist Church while assisting local homeowners.
Flood survivor Fay McDowell, 82, has been a member of Zoar since 1962. Her home, located on a busy inland highway, has never flooded, but when the water began rising, she knew she had to leave. She had just enough time to pack a few clothes and place her terrified cat, Mimi, in her attic. Then she grabbed her suitcase and her dog, Honey, and opened the door. Water poured into her kitchen, and it was continuing to rise. So she fled to the only place she knew she would be safe – her beloved church.
When she was finally able to return home, the sight brought her to her knees. Everything in the house below waist-level was ruined.
“Oh, God, how do people make it that don’t have God’s help,” she said Monday morning, crying as she recalled how bleak things looked. Her husband died three years ago, and she wasn’t sure how she would get the help she needed to begin piecing her home – and her life – back together. Hope arrived wearing gold shirts and carrying shovels.

Photo by Carmen K. Sisson/NAMB
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer Roger Gatlin, a member of Pisgah Baptist Church in Excelsior Springs, Mo., shovels debrief from Baton Rouge, La., homeowner Fay McDowell’s fireplace. Gatlin is part of a Missouri SBDR crew working mud out in the wake of massive flooding in south Louisiana in mid-August.

“God brought me to my knees, and I want to tell you, y’all made me stand back up,” McDowell said as she stood in a prayer circle with Christy and the other SBDR volunteers. “God sent me angels.”
Their work is a race against time. They have already removed most of the sheetrock, baseboards and flooring, but mold is beginning to appear, and they are scrambling to get the house gutted and sprayed with Shockwave, a disinfectant designed to kill and prevent mold.
McDowell is currently living in her 12-by-18-foot sunroom with her dog and cat but hopes she will soon be back in her three-bedroom house. She is appreciative for the little things. While one group of volunteers set up a dog kennel in her backyard, filling it with cushions and a bucket of fresh water, others struggled to get her air conditioner running.
“Thank the Lord,” she said, when the first wafts of cool air began flowing from the vents. “I’ll never again doubt God and His miraculous work. These people are like angels. God has some special people doing this work.”
But the blessings go both ways, said volunteer Sheila Gatlin. She and her husband Roger Gatlin attend Pisgah Baptist Church in Excelsior Springs, Mo. The couple began volunteering with SBDR several years ago.
“We feel very blessed as a couple that we can serve the Lord and communities in need,” Sheila Gatlin said. “Fay has such a spirit of knowing that the Lord is in control and He’s going to provide.”
Emotions after the flood run from one extreme to the other, Christy said. Some, like McDowell, draw comfort from their faith. Others are struggling. Christy carries orange pens bearing the words, “Jesus loves you.” When he said those words to a flood survivor during Sunday services at Zoar, she wrapped her arms around his neck and began crying. Minutes passed as he held her, absorbing her pain as she sobbed. She never spoke.
“She needed to get that out,” Christy said. “We are here to give people hope and help. We always feel when we go home that we were the ones who were blessed.”
Disaster relief efforts are ongoing as assessors traverse the state, looking for people in need. So far, more than 96,000 individuals and households have registered for assistance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
As for McDowell, she said she knows now that she will be okay. She renewed her flood insurance, just in time. And SBDR is on the scene to provide not only labor but also the emotional and spiritual support she needed.
“My faith was strengthened beyond belief when I saw those yellow shirts,” McDowell said. “They gave me hope the minute they came in and said, ‘Jesus is with us. We came to help.’”
Those wishing to learn more about disaster relief efforts can contact the Baptist convention in their state or donate to the cause by going to Or, call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carmen K. Sisson is a freelance writer reporting for the North American Mission Board.)

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8/24/2016 8:26:19 AM by Carmen K. Sisson, NAMB | with 0 comments

Foes of transgender order praise judge’s ruling

August 24 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Opponents of the Obama administration’s sweeping transgender directive praised a federal judge’s order blocking enforcement of the controversial action that instructed schools to permit students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity instead of their biological sex.
Reed O’Connor of the Northern District of Texas issued a preliminary injunction Aug. 21 against the May guidance from the Departments of Education and Justice. Officials of the two departments told public school districts, as well as colleges and universities, to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their choosing. The instruction was not legally binding, but it implied noncompliance could result in the loss of federal aid.
In his order, O’Connor said the temporary block in a challenge brought by Texas and officials of 12 other states should apply throughout the country.
Ken Paxton, Texas’ attorney general, applauded the decision, saying in a written statement the president “is attempting to rewrite the laws enacted by the elected representatives of the people, and is threatening to take away federal funding from schools to force them to conform. That cannot be allowed to continue ...”
Matt Sharp, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, said in written comments, “Schools have a duty to protect the privacy, safety, and dignity of all students, and this order certainly helps them in fulfilling that duty. The Obama administration cannot unilaterally disregard and redefine federal law to accomplish its political agenda of forcing girls to share locker rooms and showers with boys.”
Roger Severino of the Heritage Foundation described the judge’s action as “great news out of Texas.”
“This judgment stops the Administration’s ideologically driven misinterpretation of the law in its tracks and protects the safety and privacy of our children in school showers, lockers, and bathrooms,” said Severino, director of Heritage’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.
Lambda Legal and four other organizations advocating for gay and transgender rights criticized O’Connor’s order, saying in a joint statement, “A ruling by a single judge in one circuit cannot and does not undo the years of clear legal precedent nationwide establishing that transgender students have the right to go to school without being singled out for discrimination. This unfortunate and premature ruling may, however, confuse school districts that are simply trying to support their students, including their transgender students.”
In his 38-page opinion, O’Connor said the Obama administration’s directive failed on two counts: It ignored the clear meaning of the Title IX education ban on sex discrimination and failed to abide by the federal requirement of a public notice and comment period.
In its promotion of transgender rights in schools, the Obama administration has interpreted the Title IX education law’s prohibition on sex discrimination to protect transgender individuals as well.
A regulation implementing Title IX “is not ambiguous” regarding what it covers, O’Connor said. “It cannot be disputed that the plain meaning of the term sex as used in [the regulation] when it was enacted by [the Department of Education] following passage of Title IX meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.
“Additionally, it cannot reasonably be disputed that [the Department of Education] complied with Congressional intent when drawing the distinctions in [the regulation] based on the biological differences between male and female students.”
O’Connor’s order is at least the second this month to block an action requiring schools to allow students to use the restrooms of their gender identity rather than their biological sex.
The U.S. Supreme Court announced Aug. 3 it had put on hold a June ruling by a federal court ordering the Gloucester County (Va.) School Board to permit a biological female to use the male restroom while a case is settled in court. If the high court refuses to review the lower court opinion in the case, the hold will end immediately. If the justices accept the appeal, the stay will remain in force until they issue a ruling.
Messengers to the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution regarding transgender identity that “affirm[ed] God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” The resolution “regard[ed] our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn[ed] acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.”
The resolution also said, “We invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE –Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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Transgender directive challenged by 10 more states
Transgender debate continues over Obama directive

8/24/2016 8:25:34 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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