August 2018

Dave Miller ‘on the recovery trail’ after cancer surgery

August 17 2018 by Compiled by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Iowa pastor Dave Miller, president of last year’s Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference, has reported he is “on the recovery trail” after surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on his kidney June 26.

BP File photo
Dave Miller, presiding at last year’s Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in Phoenix, underwent surgery for kidney cancer June 26.

Miller, senior pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa, underwent surgery to remove his gall bladder and spleen on May 3, when the tumor was discovered. His wife Jeni also underwent surgery to remove a growth on her thyroid that turned out to be cancerous.
The tumor on his kidney, as assessed by a specialist, was “small, found early, and ... my chances of full cure ranged in the neighborhood of 99%,” Miller recounted in an Aug. 13 blog post at the SBC Voices website he edits.
As summed up by Miller “... in the space of two months, we had three surgeries to remove two organs and treat two cancers.... This has been a tough year – 6 months of illness, more pain than I can imagine, and the challenge of a mountain of medical bills.”
Yet, he noted, “God has walked us through this and we are blessed.”
One of the writers at SBC Voices, Brent Hobbs, lead pastor of New Song Fellowship in Virginia Beach, Va., initiated a GoFundMe account that raised about $5,750 toward the Millers’ medical bills.
And, Miller noted, “I saw two doctors, neither of whom are believers, talk about how amazed they were at the way that my surgeries went. When I told them that people all over the country were praying for them, they looked a little uncomfortable, but I had to give credit where credit was due. Both of them did a great job (and I told them that), but I believe they had some help!”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/17/2018 11:09:25 AM by Compiled by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Betty Dilday, wife of former SWBTS president, dies

August 17 2018 by Compiled by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Betty Dilday, 87, wife of former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Russell H. Dilday, died Aug. 9 from pulmonary fibrosis complications, according to an obituary in the Dallas Morning News.

Baylor University photo
Betty Doyen Dilday was named a Woman of Distinction 2011-2012 by Baylor Dallas Women's Council.

Betty Dilday served with her husband during his 16 years as Southwestern's president (1978-1994) and his 17 years as pastor of churches in Texas and Georgia. They met during their undergraduate years at Baylor University.
She became a Christian at age 9 and was baptized at First Baptist Church in Houston. A longtime public schoolteacher, she taught Bible and missions in their churches and was a choir assistant.
In 2011, she was named a Woman of Distinction by the Baylor Dallas Women's Council and in 2017 the R.H. Dilday family was awarded the title Baylor's First Family by the Baylor Line Foundation.

Russell Dilday currently is chancellor and professor of philosophy of religion and preaching for the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute, an accredited seminary based in Arlington, Texas, with a network of online platforms, ministry partners and teaching churches.

In addition to her husband of 66 years, survivors include their son Robert and daughters Nancy and Ellen; nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A memorial service was held Aug. 14 at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/17/2018 11:09:15 AM by Compiled by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

University of Iowa reinstates religious groups for now

August 17 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The University of Iowa has reinstated multiple religious student groups as registered campus organizations after one group threatened to seek a temporary restraining order amid pending litigation.

InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship sued the university Aug. 6 because school officials revoked the fellowship’s status as an official student organization over a requirement that InterVarsity Graduate leaders “share the group’s faith and exemplify its Christian values,” according to a complaint filed by the nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The temporary reinstatement, secured when Becket threatened to seek a temporary restraining order, will apply until the lawsuit is resolved.
Christian, Muslim, Mormon and Sikh groups all were among 38 student organizations deregistered in July for allegedly failing to comply with the university’s human rights policy, according to media reports.
“This win is a win for everyone – Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs alike,” Becket senior counsel Daniel Blomberg said according to an Aug. 14 news release. “Everyone loses when state officials pick who leads students in prayer and worship, and everyone wins when religious students can make those decisions for themselves. Here’s hoping the courts make the university’s temporary patch into a permanent fix.”
A university spokesperson told Baptist Press (BP), “The University of Iowa does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.”
Iowa City’s Press-Citizen reported the university set out in January and February to enforce its human rights policy and reviewed the constitutions of 513 student organizations. The 356 groups that did not include a “full and correct” statement of the university’s human rights policy in their constitutions were given deadlines to remedy the perceived problem – June 15 for most types of organizations and Sept. 4 for sororities and fraternities.
The deregistered organizations apparently were those that did not comply to the university’s satisfaction. Deregistered groups without religious ties have not been relisted on the university’s student organization website, The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, reported.
The university sent an email this week to student organizations explaining the temporary reversal for religious groups.
“Any student organization having indicated ‘spiritual and religious’ as a first, second or third category [of its activities] will be considered a registered student organization until the litigation against the University of Iowa involving student organizations is resolved,” student life vice president Melissa Shivers wrote in an Aug. 13 email provided to BP.
Becket attorneys secured the temporary reversal by negotiating with university attorneys in hopes of getting InterVarsity Graduate back on campus in time for an Aug. 15 graduate student fair, The Gazette reported. As part of the negotiations, Becket threated to ask for a temporary restraining order.
InterVarsity Graduate’s student president Katrina Schrock said, “As we all prepare to head back to school, we’re excited to know InterVarsity will also be back on campus and part of the community we love. These last few months have been crazy, but we’re grateful to be able to get back to focusing on meeting and serving the new graduate and professional students in our Hawkeye community,” according to Becket’s release.
The student organization Business Leaders in Christ (BLinC) filed a similar lawsuit against the university in December 2017 after it was kicked off campus for requiring leaders to hold biblical beliefs about human sexuality. A federal judge ruled in January that the university must temporarily restore BLinC’s registered status while the case is pending.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/17/2018 11:08:55 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Military chaplain plays historic role; comforts families

August 17 2018 by Mike Ebert, NAMB

Before dawn on July 27, Southern Baptist United States Army Chaplain (Colonel) Samuel S. Lee, stepped onto a U.S. Air Force C-17 aircraft at Osan Air Base to lead prayer for crew members who were about to take off on a historic flight across the border to North Korea.

Photo by Tech. Sgt. Ashley Tyler/USAF
United Nations Command returned 55 cases of remains from North Korea, to Osan Air Base, South Korea, July 27, 2018. Members of the command and the Osan community were on hand at the arrival ceremony.

“I woke up at 3:30 a.m. and prayed for them before they departed,” Lee said. “The mood was both excitement and solemn [sic].”
A few hours later, that same plane returned to the base with 55 small wooden coffins draped in the flag of the United Nations containing the remains of U.S. soldiers. Again, Lee boarded the plane to pray.
“When I knelt down and touched the boxes, there was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude because the mission went well, and we were finally going to be able to fulfill our vow to these soldiers that we will never leave a fallen comrade behind.”
After a few days of initial analysis and identification efforts, Lee helped lead a repatriation ceremony for the remains before they were placed on U.S. aircraft and transported to Hawaii for further DNA analysis and identification.
“It was a very moving ceremony,” Lee said. “I began with an invocation and then representatives of the nations that fought alongside the United States in the Korean War came and paid respects to the fallen.”
Lee said the historic nature of the event was not lost on anyone present.
“From privates to generals, we were all grateful for the opportunity to participate in this.”
Bugles played taps and the national anthems of the United States and South Korea.
“I wore my stole for the ceremony when we received the remains at the air base,” Lee said. “Normally at funerals I wear it with the black side out. But I decided to wear the white side out because it symbolizes peace. To me it was also a symbol to our other fallen comrades that we will not leave them alone, and they will be remembered.”
Doug Carver, executive director of North American Mission Board’s chaplaincy team, said Lee and military chaplains like him, play a key role in helping the families of fallen soldiers find closure.
“Like all military chaplains, Sam had the solemn and noble responsibility of honoring our fallen service members,” Carver said. “I’m certain his prayers over our troops killed in action during the Korean War helped bring a much-needed closure to the families of the fallen as well as rendering the highest respect from the American people and Southern Baptists.” Carver retired as a two-star Major General from the Army after serving as Chief of Chaplains from 2007 to 2011.

Army photo by Sgt. Quince Lanford
United Nations Command Chaplain Army Col. Sam Lee performs a blessing of sacrifice and remembrance on the 55 cases of remains returned by North Korea at Osan Air Base, South Korea, July 27, 2018. Lee, a Southern Baptist chaplain who has been stationed in South Korea since April of this year, also prayed with aircraft crew members before they flew to North Korea to pick up the remains earlier the same day.

Lee was born in South Korea and came to the United States at age 19 to attend college.
“I was born into a Christian family, so I thought I was a Christian,” Lee said. “But one night at a small, nearby Southern Baptist church, I came under conviction from the Holy Spirit. I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t control it.”
The next day he met with the pastor and accepted Jesus.
“That’s why I still have a love for Southern Baptists to this day,” Lee said.
Lee went on to earn a master’s degree in Christian education from Dallas Theological Seminary and a master of divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.  While serving as an Army chaplain, he completed a third master’s degree in national security strategy from National Defense University, Fort McNeil, Washington D.C.
Lee began his military service in 1991 and transitioned to the chaplaincy ministry in 1995. He has seen a lot in that time and ministered in tough situations. During a deployment in Iraq, his unit lost 34 soldiers. Lee was also assigned to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington, D.C., where soldiers with the worst war injuries come for treatment and recovery.
“Those experiences made me understand just how brutal war is and how fragile our bodies can be,” Lee said. “But it also made me grateful to live in a country where we value each individual’s life so highly.”
Lee previously served in South Korea from 2012 to 2014. His latest assignment there began in April of this year.
As command chaplain for U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), Lee supervises all U.S. military chaplains serving in South Korea as well as those serving under the Combined Forces Command (the combined U.S.-South Korea forces) and United Nations Command, the United Nations entity that oversees the Korean Armistice agreement that was signed in 1953.
The Korean War occurred between June 25, 1950 and July 27, 1953. After a series of border skirmishes, North Korean troops, backed by China and the USSR, invaded the South in the name of unifying the country. The United Nations responded by sending a multi-national military force to repel North Korea. More than 36,000 U.S. troops died in the war and more than 7,700 are still unaccounted for. The remains of U.S. soldiers were returned by North Korea in July on the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice agreement between the North Korean government and the United Nations.
More than 1,600 Southern Baptist chaplains serve the U.S. military. The North American Mission Board endorses those chaplains on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Ebert serves as executive director of public relations for the North American Mission Board. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/17/2018 11:08:38 AM by Mike Ebert, NAMB | with 0 comments

Greear: Catholic abuse report requires ‘bold steps’

August 16 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A Pennsylvania grand jury’s report alleging unprecedented levels of sexual abuse and cover-up by Roman Catholic clergy has drawn reaction from Southern Baptists.
Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear said Southern Baptists should respond to the report by taking all steps necessary to eradicate sexual abuse “from within our community.” Commentators from two SBC seminaries noted both the unique ways Roman Catholic doctrine may have contributed to the alleged offenses and the ways evangelical Protestants likewise have shamed themselves through sexual misconduct.
The 900-page grand jury report, released Aug. 14, named more than 300 Catholic clergy members in Pennsylvania – though some names are redacted – who allegedly abused more than 1,000 victims over seven decades, beginning in the 1940s. The victims, “most of whom were boys,” were “brushed aside, in every part of the state, by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all,” the report stated.
On a positive note, “much has changed over the last fifteen years” in the Catholic Church, according to the report, including better reporting to law enforcement by church officials and the establishment of “internal review processes.”
Yet “child abuse in the church has not yet disappeared,” according to the report. The grand jury charged two priests earlier in its investigation with sexual abuse.
Many of the accused priests are dead or their alleged crimes are beyond the state’s statute of limitations for prosecution, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Some accused clergy disputed the report’s allegations, and their responses were included in the report. A spokesman for one accused cardinal told The Inquirer the grand jury investigation involved a “flawed process” aimed “unwaveringly toward a predetermined result.”
Greear, who announced in July he would form a Sexual Abuse Prevention Study Group, told Baptist Press, “We grieve over this report from the grand jury. The safety and healing for victims is paramount.
“I also recognize that this is not an isolated problem. We must ask ourselves what bold steps need to be taken in eradicating this horrific sin from within our community. Over the last several weeks, I have heard from many advocates, victims, counselors, denominational leaders and legal experts and look forward to unveiling new steps that we as Southern Baptists can take together,” said Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the grand jury’s allegations are “absolutely, undeniably horrifying.” The alleged longstanding cover-up of abuse may have been facilitated by Catholic doctrine and practice, he said.
“One of the reasons why the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Pennsylvania, as elsewhere, was able for so long to cover up these allegations and documented cases of abuse is because, after all, the Roman Catholic Church is built upon a hierarchy,” Mohler said Aug. 15 in his podcast The Briefing.

“Explanations of the scandal and its persistence must at least deal with certain questions of Roman Catholic theology, the existence and authority of what is called canon law, the culture of seminarian and priestly life and furthermore, the entire sacramental system and the magisterial authority claimed by the Roman Catholic Church.”
But the recent “humiliation to evangelical Protestantism” caused by sexual abuse and misconduct also must be addressed, Mohler said. He noted specifically turmoil at Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago, where the entire elder board, lead pastor Heather Larson and lead teaching pastor Steve Carter all resigned this month after confessing that leaders at the influential megachurch mishandled allegations of sexual misconduct against founding pastor Bill Hybels.
Hybels retired in April, six months ahead of schedule, amid accusations of a pattern of sexual misconduct. He denied the accusations. To date, 10 women have accused him of misconduct, and the church has admitted he “entered into areas of sin,” Christianity Today reported.
Southern Baptists also have been affected by allegations of sexual misconduct. Over the past six months, allegations have surfaced at Southern Baptist churches, at least one state Baptist convention and SBC entities.
At the SBC annual meeting in June, messengers addressed sexual abuse through motions, a resolution “on abuse” and questions to entity leaders.
A news release announcing Greear’s sexual abuse study group July 26, formed in partnership with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the group’s purpose “will be to consider how Southern Baptists at every level can take discernable action to respond swiftly and compassionately to incidents of abuse, as well as to foster safe environments within churches and institutions.”
Malcolm Yarnell, a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor who has written on Roman Catholicism, told BP the Catholic hierarchy may have “fostered an environment for abuse,” and “the Roman church’s extra-biblical and supra-local governing structure bears some responsibility for covering up such evil.” Yet “the free churches have their own systematic problem.”
While a “powerful” Catholic bishop may attempt to “cover up a minister’s deeds by silently and arbitrarily moving the alleged miscreant from one parish to another,” a “problem we face as free churches is that a deviant minister might move from one local church to another without the people in the new church becoming any wiser to the minister’s past misconduct,” Yarnell, research professor of systematic theology at Southwestern, said in written comments.
“If one church allows a minister to go without reporting an accusation to the appropriate child protection agency or to a police department, what is to keep another church informed about the deviant minister’s past? Without the first church reporting the problem, the second church may suffer a hidden evil,” Yarnell said.
“This is not to say that the free church structure is just as problematic as the Roman church structure,” Yarnell said. “It is more difficult for a cabal of people to hide sinfulness in a free church structure, especially in a congregational one. However, if an entire church culture is ignoring the problem of sexual abuse of the weak – whether of children or women – then a more biblical structure will not help stem the problem. The problem of the abuse of power, especially among those who are supposed to be holy, is one that all Christians, whatever their church, must address through education.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/16/2018 11:06:36 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Again: Colorado says cake artist Jack Phillips broke law

August 16 2018 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Christian cake artist Jack Phillips is in court again, defending the same religious freedom right the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed on his behalf in a previous case in June.

Alliance Defending Freedom photo
Christian cake artist Jack Phillips is in court again to defend his First Amendment right to freedom of religious expression.

This time, transgender attorney Autumn Scardina filed a discrimination complaint against Phillips for refusing to bake a birthday cake celebrating Scardina’s transition from a male to female identity. Pink cake on the inside and blue frosting on the outside describes the cake Scardina requested.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has sued the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC) in this latest case against Phillips, ADF said in a press release today (Aug. 15).
“The state of Colorado is ignoring the message of the U.S. Supreme Court by continuing to single out Jack for punishment and to exhibit hostility toward his religious beliefs,” Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of ADF’s U.S. Legal Division, said in the press release. “Even though Jack serves all customers and simply declines to create custom cakes that express messages or celebrate events in violation of his deeply held beliefs, the government is intent on destroying him – something the Supreme Court has already told it not to do.
“Neither Jack nor any other creative professionals should be targeted by the government for living consistently with their religious beliefs,” said Waggoner, a member of Phillips’ longtime defense team.
Scardina’s case is not unexpected. The Supreme Court, in its 2018 summer session, declined to rule on several of the broader questions of Phillips’ case, leaving legal doors open that will likely be entered by lower courts, religious liberty experts have told Baptist Press.
The Supreme Court left “several important questions unanswered,” Southern Baptist religious freedom specialist Travis Wussow said in July, “and it will be up to the lower courts to answer them before the Supreme Court takes up another of these cases.”
Among other questions, the high court declined to rule on “whether or not the creation of a wedding cake constitutes speech under the First Amendment and whether the state can therefore compel that speech,” Wussow told BP.
Scardina asked Phillips to bake the blue and pink cake June 26, according to a complaint filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Division against Phillips on July 20, 2017. Scardina filed the complaint about a month after the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case stemming from Phillip’s refusal in 2012 to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex male couple.
In the older case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court ruled June 4 that the CCRC demonstrated “religious hostility” and violated the religious free exercise clause of the First Amendment by penalizing Phillips for declining to bake the cake for the same-sex wedding. Weeks after the June 4 ruling, the Colorado Civil Rights Division found probable cause to pursue a new case against Phillips, based on Scardina’s complaint.
“The Respondent (Phillips) asserts that it will not provide the service of creating cakes that ‘promote the idea that a person’s sex is anything other than an immutable God-given biological reality,’” Colorado said in response to Scardina’s complaint. “The evidence thus demonstrates that the refusal to provide service to the Complainant was based on the Complainant’s transgender status. A claim of discriminatory denial of full and equal enjoyment of a place of public accommodation has been established.”
Colorado is specifically targeting Phillips for attack, the ADF asserts. In other cases where cake artists have refused to create custom cakes, the ADF said, the state has repeatedly found no probable cause in discrimination complaints. The state treated Phillips differently, his attorneys said, when the cake artist declined to create a cake celebrating transgenderism.
“The arbitrary basis on which the state is applying its law makes clear that its officials are targeting Jack because they despise his religious beliefs and practices,” ADF senior counsel Jim Campbell said in the ADF press release. “Jack shouldn’t have to fear government hostility when he opens his shop for business each day. We’re asking the court to put a stop to that.”
Phillips agreed.
“Colorado just seems to be looking for opportunities to punish me for my faith,” Phillips said at after the latest case.
ADF filed its latest lawsuit on behalf of Phillips, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Elenis, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
Similar cases regarding Christians remain active in other states, including Oregon cake bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein, Kentucky T-shirt designer Blaine Adamson, Arizona painters and calligraphers Joanna Duke and Breanna Koski, and Minnesota filmmakers Carl and Angel Larsen. Read their stories here.
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/16/2018 11:06:24 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Near Yellowstone, 6-member church impacts the world

August 16 2018 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

Most churches would consider closing their doors if their active membership dipped to six people, but Gardiner Baptist Church is holding steady.

Photo by Karen Willoughby
Britton Gray, Yellowstone National Park's structural fire chief, responsible for 1,600 buildings, including lodging for 20,000 guests, serves as bivocational pastor of Gardiner Baptist Church near the north entrance to the nation's oldest park. Here he rests with his near-constant companion, fire dog Magoo.

The debt-free church – located near Yellowstone National Park’s north entrance – is raising money for a two-story community building on its two acres to serve as a food pantry, thrift store and medical clinic, with emergency housing upstairs, in the town of 875 people.
Other ministries include supporting the local food bank; providing space to the town’s physical therapy center and counseling center along with community use of its playground; and the GBC House Band (as in Gardiner Baptist Church) – with pastor Britton Gray as lead vocalist – performing once a month in the basement of a local gathering spot and tourist attraction called the Two-Bit Saloon and Grill.
“We’re trying to connect with those who think they’re unworthy to go to church,” said Linda Gray, the pastor’s wife. “We’ve worked really hard at being a place for the down and out.”
Though Gardiner Baptist has both an internet and Facebook presence, the church’s building and its playground on the town’s main thoroughfare – U.S. 89 – often is the first awareness visitors have that Southern Baptists minister year-round to local residents, hundreds of seasonal workers and multiple thousands who venture to Yellowstone each year through the north entrance.
Five to 10 people visit Gardiner Baptist Church each week during the summer months – more when a mission team is in town – so in 2017 the average Sunday worship attendance was 22. Members, mission teams and Yellowstone visitors help the church conduct block parties, outdoor concerts, Bible distribution, five-day kids’ camps and other outreach activities.
“We want to expose people who are lost to the truth of the gospel, and the only way to expose someone to the truth is by having a relationship with them,” Britton Gray told Baptist Press. “If we’re not out there meeting and greeting people, how are we going to lead people to Christ?”

Photo by Karen Willoughby
Linda Gray and Sue Oliver check some of the stuffed animals that have already been given for Gardiner Baptist Church's 2018 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Gray is the wife of Pastor Britton Gray; Oliver is the Montana church's supplies coordinator for the yearly project.

Gray is bivocational, serving as structural fire chief responsible for the 1,600 buildings in Yellowstone, including lodging for 20,000 guests, and vehicle accidents on the park’s 466 miles of roads traveled by about four million visitors a year.
Church members often find people in vulnerable moments, such as the middle-aged man with medical issues, the recent retiree new to town, the Yellowstone employee farther from God than she realized until God used Gardiner Baptist to get her attention.
Gardiner Baptist’s ministries start locally but reach out globally. One Yellowstone visitor from Bulgaria was so impressed with the Gardiner food pantry – started in 2005 by Linda Gray and daughter Ayla (who was five at the time) – that the visitor started one in her home country.
But perhaps the church’s most far-reaching effort is acquiring items to fill shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child (OCC), a Samaritan’s Purse ministry.
“Each year God seems to incrementally increase the number of boxes we fill,” said Sue Oliver, a church member who coordinates the OCC ministry. “We’ve gotten better organized, and in 2017 God filled 502 shoeboxes through us.” That’s up from 40 in 2011, the first year Gardiner Baptist Church participated in the international effort, and twice the number typically packed by churches of all sizes according to an Operation Christmas Child spokesperson.
Gardiner Baptist Church allocates 20 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions: five percent through the Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program for state, national and international missions and ministry; five percent for the cooperative work of the 32 churches in the Treasure State Baptist Association; five percent for Child Evangelism Fellowship – this summer Ayla Gray is the first-ever CEF intern from Montana; and five percent for local missions and ministries.
“One of the things Southern Baptists do really well is cooperate together in God’s Kingdom work,” Britton Gray said. “We’ve seen that here at Gardiner Baptist Church with the volunteer teams who come and help do ministry, and we want to do our part too, cooperating with our association, state convention and all Southern Baptists.”
Not that it’s easy, being a church with just six active members, though that number fluctuates as people move into and out of town.
The church, built in the late 1970s, may be spacious but its repair and renovation needs are constant, as are those of the parsonage next door.
“We have rooms we close off in winter because we can’t afford to heat them,” Sue Oliver said. “We stay on our knees constantly, asking God to move people’s hearts and help us reach this lost community.

Photo by Sue Oliver
Elk hold court at Montana's Gardiner Baptist Church. With just six members, the debt-free church – located near Yellowstone National Park's north entrance – is raising money for a two-story community building on its two acres in the town of 875 people.

“Then God provides,” she continued. “Miraculously, at the last minute.... We are on a shoestring budget and pray each week for the doors to stay open.”
Alongside the challenge of staying open are the needs of people dealing with the financial struggles of living in a high-value area, Linda Gray said.
Many rentals that once were affordable have been turned into high-dollar vacation rentals by new owners, meaning that local people often work two or more jobs to make ends meet to avoid losing their housing.
“When they ask for help, Gardiner Baptist Church is there to help them,” Linda Gray said. “We’ve given people rent money, money to pay for dental work for a young girl being teased at school. We’ve kept the heat on, paid for medications....”
When asked how that was possible in a church with such limited resources, she shook her head and smiled.
“God does it,” Linda Gray said.
“We’re Gideon’s Army,” Britton Gray said. “God gets the glory. It’s just amazing how God works.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/16/2018 11:05:51 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Administration gains high marks on religious liberty

August 16 2018 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Trump administration is receiving high marks so far for its religious liberty record from many advocates for the First Amendment freedom.
The July 30 announcement of a religious liberty task force in the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Aug. 10 release of a Department of Labor policy directive to protect religious free exercise are the latest in a series of administration actions applauded by defenders of freedom of belief and practice. Yet, some advocates also say more remains to be done by this White House to safeguard religious liberty.
In commending the Trump administration, religious freedom defenders cite as evidence of its laudable record in the first year and a half the rollback of the Obama-era abortion/contraception mandate for religious non-profit organizations and the president’s nomination to the Supreme Court and other courts of judges who interpret the Constitution based on its original meaning.
This administration’s work to support religious freedom has been “truly historic,” said Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), in a phone interview with Baptist Press. “I don’t know that we’ve seen another administration show this level of commitment to Americans’ First Amendment freedoms, and it’s timely in that so many Americans and so many of [ADF’s clients] are facing hostility and persecution by state and local governments. So to see this commitment by the Trump administration is very welcome and to be commended.”
The Trump administration has “taken some very positive steps,” The Heritage Foundation’s Emilie Kao told BP by phone.
Kao, director of Heritage’s Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, pointed to the work of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in particular.
Sessions, who heads DOJ, “is putting the correct emphasis on religious freedom as our First Freedom in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which is unfortunately very needed now because people seem to have forgotten that this is our first freedom and that it’s enshrined in the Constitution and that it is so important to the peaceful pluralism that we’ve enjoyed in this country for so long,” she said.
As in the past, the issue is vital for Baptists, an advocate for freedom of religion told BP.
“Religious liberty is an issue of fundamental importance for Baptists from the beginning of the American experiment to today,” said Travis Wussow, general counsel and vice president for public policy of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “It is a right granted by God but one that must be defended anew in every age because every generation brings new challenges.”
The ERLC “will continue working with this administration and all branches and levels of government to ensure religious liberty is protected,” Wussow said in written comments.
Individuals, religious charities and religious institutions still face “huge challenges,” especially those who believe only in male-female marriage, Kao said.
“The Trump administration really needs to protect the people who are increasingly becoming the minority, the dissenting voices on these issues of sexuality, marriage and the family,” she told BP. “The United States government has always protected dissenters and nonconformists when it’s taken positions on controversial issues like the military draft or the death penalty or abortion, and it should be the same way on marriage.”
The administration could do more to protect adoption and foster-care agencies, Kao said. The opioid crisis is driving “unprecedented numbers” of children into foster care, she told BP. About 92,000 of the 440,000 children in foster care find themselves in the system because of their parents’ drug addictions, Kao said.
Meanwhile, some states and cities have essentially shut down Roman Catholic and other faith-based agencies because they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. Nine states have laws that require child welfare agencies to place children with same-sex couples in adoption, foster care or both, according to Reuters News Service. They are California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
“We see more examples of government mandates that are limiting the ability of religious charities to serve their neighbors,” Kao told BP.
In an Aug. 12 opinion piece in USA Today, ERLC President Russell Moore called for religious freedom protections for adoption and foster care agencies. The ERLC supports a congressional proposal that would bar government discrimination against child welfare organizations that act on their religious beliefs.
The legislation “works to ensure that Catholics can be Catholic and Baptists can be Baptist, while being active participants within civil society,” Moore wrote. “As Americans, we need to come together, put aside the politics and work to make sure as many children as possible are able to find the loving home every child deserves.”
ADF’s Fiedorek said the situation for the new administration is “really more of fixing the problems that existed under the Obama administration, and that takes time. So it seems that the administration is working as quickly as they can to address the significant infringements on freedom that happened during the Obama administration.”
The ERLC and others have also expressed concern about the Trump administration’s changes in the refugee resettlement program that affect global religious freedom. In an Aug. 7 letter, Moore and other members of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback to urge an increase to at least 75,000 refugees in 2019.
In the letter, the EIT members say religious minorities have suffered as the number of refugees admitted to the United States has fallen by about 70 percent from the first six months of 2016 to the same period in 2018. Most dramatically, the change has affected Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. In the first half of 2016, 1,574 Middle East Christians were admitted, but only 23 were resettled in the first six months this year, marking a decline of 98.5 percent, according to the letter.
“One key measure of our country’s commitment to religious freedom abroad is how we treat the refugee fleeing persecution,” Wussow said in a news release accompanying the letter. “Unfortunately, while attention to religious freedom is growing, the number of refugees admitted to the United States – including the admission of persecuted Christians – is shrinking. Our commitment is wide in speech, but is it deep enough in action to welcome refugees upon our shores? We are expected to do both.”
The new DOJ task force is a follow-up to the department’s 2017 guidance that instructed agencies to protect religious freedom, Fiedorek said.
The task force will help the DOJ implement the guidance “by ensuring that all of the various Justice Department components are upholding that guidance in the cases that they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, how they conduct their operations, and the policies and regulations that they’re adopting,” she said.
The Department of Labor directive called for its employees to abide by recent court decisions and presidential orders on religious freedom, thereby practicing neutrality toward religious beliefs.
In addition, the Trump administration actions commended by religious liberty advocates include:

  • A new Department of Health and Human Services rule in October 2017 that exempts employers who object to the health-care abortion/contraception mandate based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions. The 2011 regulation required employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those that can potentially induce abortions.


  • President Trump’s January 2017 nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, as well as the July 2018 selection of Brett Kavanaugh to the high court. Since joining the high court, Gorsuch has cast votes supported by religious liberty advocates in wins for Trinity Lutheran Church out of Missouri in 2017 and Masterpiece Cakeshop out of Colorado earlier this year. The Senate has yet to hold hearings and a vote on Kavanaugh. Religious freedom advocates also have welcomed many Trump appointments of appeals court and federal judges.


  • The first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom convened by the State Department in July in Washington, D.C. Delegations from more than 80 foreign governments met in an effort to combat persecution of and discrimination against people of all faiths. The event, which produced both a declaration and a plan of action, will be held again next year.


  • Trump’s 2017 selection of Brownback, a devoted foe of overseas religious persecution during his years in Congress, as ambassador at large for international religious freedom.


  • The DOJ’s defense of religious liberty in court.


  • The HHS’ establishment of the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in January 2018.


  • The DOJ’s effort to increase prosecutions on violence against religious individuals and houses of worship.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/16/2018 11:05:36 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

California fires leave locals ‘shocked,’ DR active

August 15 2018 by David Roach, Baptist Press

California Southern Baptists have found themselves dispensing hope amid the death, destruction and weariness caused by more than a dozen wildfires burning across the state.

Screen capture from KGO
The largest fire in California history, the Mendocino Complex fire, has left locals in need of “an encourager and comforter,” DOM Gregory Holmes said.

The largest recorded fire in California history – the Mendocino Complex fire in the northern part of the state – has burned more than 340,000 acres, destroyed 147 homes and left a firefighter dead Aug. 13.
Among those to suffer loss in the massive blaze is Gregory Holmes, director of missions for the Mendo-Lake Baptist Association in Lucerne, Calif., who lost all the structures on his 23-acre Lake County retirement property. Holmes, 72, had spent years preparing the property for his retirement, which he hoped to begin in four to five years. But he couldn’t find a company willing to issue fire insurance because of the high risk.
In Lake County, 50 percent of the land has burned since 2012, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis.
“The pastors in the area are all worn out from dealing with the same stuff I’m dealing with,” Holmes told Baptist Press. Locals need “an encourager and comforter.”
Yet the pastors persist in ministry, said Holmes, who also pastors First Baptist Church in Clearlake Oaks, Calif. Listening to people’s stories, showing compassion and connecting fire victims with resources are the chief avenues for ministry, he noted.
“The specific message is always Jesus,” Holmes said. “But it comes in a package that looks like a hug, or it comes in a package that looks like a listening ear” or “some resources to get you by for a day or two.”
The Mendocino Complex fire was 68 percent contained as of Aug. 13.
Some 170 miles north of Lake County, Pastor Harold Luke of First Baptist Church in Shasta Lake City, Calif., is shepherding the congregation through the death of a 90-year-old member who contracted pneumonia from smoke inhalation amid the Carr fire. The 203,000-acre blaze has destroyed 1,077 homes and is 61 percent contained.
“There was good support from the church for the family” at the 90-year-old’s Aug. 13 funeral, Luke told BP. “We were able to just surround them and love them.”
Nearly two weeks ago, First Baptist Shasta Lake City opened its food pantry to 65-70 fire-stricken locals and fed them a meal as well, Luke said. Church members prayed and shared the gospel during the event, and two people who received assistance have returned for worship.
“We haven’t seen the sunshine in three weeks, and everybody’s wearing masks,” Luke said. “There’s still a lot of ash falling around, so we’re still in survival mode.”
Mike Bivins, disaster relief director for the California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC), said DR chaplains ministered Aug. 6-13 to families affected by the Carr fire as they returned to destroyed homes in Redding, Calif.
“People were shocked” at the destruction, Bivins told BP. “We would give them water and just listen to their stories.” The ministry “is as much emotional as it is spiritual.”
During this summer’s fire season, CSBC DR units also have assisted with post-fire cleanup in the San Diego area and operated a shower unit in Palm Desert, Calif., Bivins said.
As containment of the fires increases, all state emergency shelters have closed, he said. Still, many Californians remain in need of help and healing.
Since last fall, more than 40 people have been killed by California wildfires and thousands of homes have been lost, the Times reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/15/2018 10:23:42 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bilingual discipleship leads to bilingual ministry in Calif.

August 15 2018 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

Trinity Baptist Church in Holtville sits 10 miles from the Mexican border, but this story isn’t about immigration, the need (or lack) of a wall or border ministry.
It’s much bigger than that.
“We do a lot of discipleship both in English and Spanish,” said Richard Moore, pastor since 1981 of the church that draws more than 250 people who worship in English and Spanish. He is pastor of both congregations.
“That’s what Jesus told us to do,” Moore added, referring to the discipleship that has grown the church from the 50 who attended 38 years ago, to two language-specific congregations that together have sent out members to minister in California, Tennessee, Mexico, South America, Haiti, Thailand, Uganda and Zambia.
Trinity allocates about 40 percent of its budget to missions, which includes contributing six percent of undesignated receipts to the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program.

Among the church’s major endeavors: Grace and Truth Ministries in Mexico, Trinity Baptist Restoration Center in Holtville, the Center for Christian Missions in Zambia, Disciple Thailand in that Southeast Asian country; and for Holtville children, AWANA and the Noah’s Ark Preschool and Daycare.
The church also serves as a starting point for other congregations that want to be involved in missions south of the U.S./Mexico border. These churches join with Trinity and the parachurch partnerships it has formed over the years.
Moore and his wife moved from Tennessee to Holtville thinking they’d learn Spanish and then move to Central America.
“But God had a better plan,” he said. “Because of all these open doors, we decided to stay here in Holtville.”
The Imperial Valley city has a population of about 6,000, at least 75 percent of whom are Hispanic.
Moore, who taught himself Spanish, said he never asks people about their legal status, but rather about their spiritual status.
“I know Jesus is the answer for all their needs, not the USA,” Moore said.
As Trinity sees opportunities, members do what they can to help, which leads to evangelism and then discipleship.
“We want to reach out to our community, but also to plant and strengthen other churches and to keep making disciples,” Moore said.
In July the church helped start its fourth Hispanic congregation in Tennessee. In August they’re taking 20 men to Peru to work with a church in Lima that is planting a new church in Cerro Azul. The men will do construction work in the mornings and evangelism and discipleship in the evenings.
Trinity 10 years ago started and continues to provide for an orphanage called Casa Hogar Gracia y Verdad, where about 20 children live in the border town of Mexicali. It also has built orphanages elsewhere in Mexico, and in Guatemala and Haiti.
“Down through the years we’ve done ministries in a small way, but now in a bigger way because people have become discipled and are doing the work of Jesus,” Moore explained. “It’s beautiful to see both languages working together to do Kingdom work.”
The church’s website – – delineates the multiple ministries manned by its disciples.
Grace and Truth Ministries, Trinity’s primary outreach avenue in Mexico and Latin America, includes church planting, evangelism, discipleship, radio programs, medical/dental missions, construction, hunger relief, orphanages, children’s ministries and pastoral training, often in partnership with other churches, ministries and individuals.
A major area of ministry is the Mexican state of Oaxaca, near Guatemala, where Grace and Truth Ministries started going five years ago, in both January and in June. Often they do medical missions with around 50 medical professionals and their translators.
“We now work with government officials down there,” Moore said. “They help pay our expenses and give us complete freedom to share the gospel.
“Whatever we can do – we’ve done outreaches with veterinarians, with a NASA engineer who spoke about the space program; he was able to share his testimony on television – whatever we can do to lead someone to Christ, we’ll do it. If it’s not sinful, of course.”
Evangelism is just the starting point, Moore said. The key is discipleship. He uses material from Robby Gallaty’s and Herb Hodges’ Spiritual Life Ministries.
“Also, we have a Bible institute here in Spanish for three hours on Tuesday nights,” Moore said. “It’s about practical topics: how to evangelize, plant churches, teach the Word, preach, and disciple someone.
“Because we’ve done the discipleship, we’ve got 12 men in English and another 12 in Spanish who are pretty good preachers,” Moore continued. “It (their discipleship) has opened up this Kingdom opportunity. They’re busy, active, and God provides the funding. A lot of times that means just going across the border.”
On the other hand, it costs about $700 for one person to travel the 1,800 miles and stay for a week in Oaxaca.
The church has sent entire families to start churches in the Imperial Valley, in Tennessee and elsewhere, and they minister weekly to about 30 people at the Blossom Valley assisted living center, and lead a Sunday evening service for about 30 residents of Living Free Ministries and others in the community.
“We’re kind of isolated down here on the border,” Moore said. “These are ways we speak encouragement into people’s lives.”
Moore has ministered in at least 20 of Mexico’s 31 states, working through the Mexican Baptist Convention, with Dios con Nosotros (God with Us), the Mexican Baptist association across the border from Holtville, and the International Mission Board.
“There are hundreds of little villages without a gospel witness,” Moore said about Mexico. “Our goal is that there is an evangelical, hopefully Baptist, church in every one of those communities.
“We don’t want people just in church, but people who are actively involved in making disciples, reaching people with the gospel so we can reproduce,” the pastor continued.
“It’s multiplication we’re after.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a writer in Utah. This article appeared in the California Southern Baptist,, news journal of the California Southern Baptist Convention. Reprinted from Baptist Press,, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

8/15/2018 10:23:27 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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