December 2015

Democrats criticize Trump, other Republicans on Islam

December 22 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

In the final Democratic presidential debate of the year, all three candidates said the U.S. government should partner with Muslims in the fight against terrorism and accused Republicans of demonizing adherents of the world’s second largest religion.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s statements on Islam are used as recruiting tools by the terrorist group ISIS drew both media attention and calls by Trump for an apology.


CNN screen capture

“We also need to make sure the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don’t fall on receptive ears,” Clinton said during the Dec. 19 debate. “He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.”
Clinton apparently was referencing Trump’s Dec. 7 call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S. in response to the threat of Islamic terrorism.
Trump demanded an apology Dec. 21, calling Clinton’s statement “a disgusting story she made up about me,” according to Politico. The Washington Post said Clinton’s claim that ISIS utilizes videos of Trump “doesn’t appear to be true.”
In defense, the Clinton campaign pointed to statements by intelligence analyst Rita Katz that ISIS “follow[s] everything Trump says.” Katz told The Post, “ISIS didn’t feature a Trump video, but ISIS supporters and recruiters have used Trump’s rhetoric to promote ISIS’s ideas and agenda.”
During the debate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley also criticized Trump’s policy proposals regarding Islam.
Sanders, apparently employing hyperbole, depicted Trump as stating, “We hate all Muslims because all of the Muslims are terrorists.” O’Malley said the son of a Muslim friend in Maryland asked his father, “Dad, what happens if Donald Trump wins and we have to move out of our houses?”
In all, the candidates mentioned Trump at least nine times by name – five by Clinton – and appeared to reference him on one other occasion without using his name.
Clinton said preventing domestic terrorism will require working “more closely with Muslim-American communities.” The former first lady said she “met with a group of Muslim Americans this past week to hear from them what they’re doing to stop radicalization.
“They will be our early warning signal,” Clinton said of Muslim Americans. “That’s why we need to work with them, not demonize them as the Republicans have been doing.”
In a Dec. 15 Republican presidential debate, no other candidate expressed agreement with Trump’s proposal to temporary halt Muslim immigration. Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush said a ban on Muslim immigration would be counterproductive by pushing Muslim allies away from America when they are needed in the fight against ISIS.
During the Democratic debate, Clinton cited the need to “[make] sure that Muslim Americans don’t feel left out or marginalized at the very moment when we need their help.”
Sanders said the U.S. should build a military coalition with Muslim countries to fight ISIS. He agreed with a statement he attributed to King Abdullah II of Jordan: “International terrorism is by definition an international issue, but it is primarily an issue of the Muslim nations who are fighting for the soul of Islam.”
Sanders added later, “The troops on the ground [fighting ISIS] should not be American troops. They should be Muslim troops” from “countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”
Clinton said “ground combat troops” should come largely from Sunni Muslim nations since ISIS is a Sunni extremist group. She stipulated, however, that U.S. “special operators” and “trainers” may also be needed.
O’Malley expressed concern America could violate religious liberty in its zeal to combat Islamic terrorism.
“We need to speak to what unites us as a people,” O’Malley said, “freedom of worship, freedom of religion, freedom of expression. And we should never be convinced to give up those freedoms for a promise of greater security – especially from someone as untried and as incompetent as Donald Trump.”
O’Malley twice referenced ISIS’s activities against Christians as “genocide.” Arguing for continued welcoming of Syrian refugees to America, he spoke of persecuted “Chaldean Christian communities.” Clinton likewise opposed halting Muslim immigration – a policy Sanders also has opposed.
O’Malley said Chaldean Christians have told him “when ISIS moves into their town, they actually paint a red cross across the door and mark their homes for demolition, and that tells the family you’d better get out now. That [is the] sort of genocide and brutality that the victims are suffering. These are not the perpetrators.”
Later in the debate, O’Malley said he “would disagree somewhat with one of [his] colleagues” by classifying ISIS as “a genocidal threat.”
The O’Malley campaign was not able to reply before Baptist Press’ publication deadline to a question about which other candidate the governor was referencing.
None of the candidates mentioned abortion or same-sex marriage until Clinton’s closing statement, in which she warned electing a Republican president would put “gay rights” “at risk” and potentially lead to withdrawal of government funding from Planned Parenthood.
The next Democratic debate will occur Jan. 17 in Charleston, S.C.

12/22/2015 9:28:13 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Family gives father ‘highlight of Christmas’

December 22 2015 by Kate Gregory, Baptist Press

OAXACA, Mexico – The Quinn family had agreed not to give each other any large presents last Christmas so they could send their father, Breese, on a mission trip to Mexico. So on Christmas morning when Breese saw his two children, ages 11 and 13, smiling at him as they stood beside a big wrapped present, he thought they had reneged on their pact.


IMB screen capture
The Quinn family scaled back Christmas presents last year to send dad, Breese, on mission trip to Mexico. When Breese opened his gift, inside was a scene (a three-dimensional miniature model) that featured the mountainous region of southern Mexico. The gift was titled Oaxaca Missions 2015. Breese’s son Aidan had added trees from his train set and displayed figures at the foot of the mountain reading the Bible.

But when he opened the big box, inside was a scene (a three-dimensional miniature model) that featured the mountainous region of southern Mexico. The gift was titled Oaxaca Missions 2015. Breese’s son Aidan had added trees from his train set and displayed figures at the foot of the mountain reading the Bible.
On one side of the box, Aidan and sibling, Erin, had written Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.”
They included a family photo and one of Breese in Peru, his first missions trip in 2011 to visit International Mission Board missionaries Jeff and Liesa Holeman, whose home church is also the Quinns’: First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss. This past February, Breese was a part of a mission team from the church that worked for a week alongside the Holemans, who had relocated to Mexico.
The greatest part of the gift to Breese was the prayers from his children lining a side of the box. “It’s that part of the gift that really brought me to tears, that there weren’t just prayers for me but also prayers for the people of Oaxaca.
“It was the highlight of Christmas for me, representing the support my family was giving to send me out on their behalf,” Breese said.

Change of plans

When a teacher’s strike in Oaxaca was going to halt plans the Holemans had for Breese and fellow church member Buster Hale to teach English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) classes to a group of teachers there, they all wondered whether that part of the trip would need to be canceled. They began thinking that Breese and Buster would end up helping in clinics that a group of medical professionals from the Oxford congregation would be conducting in the area that same week.
But when Liesa heard that a family wanted one-on-one instruction in English, the ESL aspect of the trip remained, though different than originally planned.
Liesa, Buster and Breese taught ESL classes that week to a small group gathered at Iglesia Cristiana Biblica Evangelica Alamos. Liesa and Buster taught a handful of youth in the sanctuary, while Breese practiced English with Alamos’ pastor Carlos Vasquez and his wife Sara around their parsonage’s kitchen table.
The pastor dreams of offering English classes at the church as a way to reach out to his community. His wife, a teacher, was practicing for her certification exam, which will offer her greater job stability.
“Spending time with Sara and Carlos has been really gratifying, to support these folks in some little way, to help them to better minister to their community,” Breese said.
An associate professor of physics at the University of Mississippi, Breese is accustomed to plotting out a trajectory of how things should work, but he said the change of plans on this trip taught him to “quit relying on [his] own plans and to follow God’s lead.”
Prior to the trip, the Oxford congregation had been studying the Experiencing God book.
“This experience has been so closely tied to this study,” Breese said. “I’m no longer just trying to figure out what to do for God. I’m available for what God wants to do through me.
“It’s so easy to see the needs and how God is working … when we’re taken out of our element. I want to recognize what the needs are in my community, when the obstacles to that are just the routine of daily life. I want to see past the routine and identify needs and what God is doing about those needs and how I can join Him there, like here in Oaxaca.”

12/22/2015 9:23:56 AM by Kate Gregory, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

2 Sudanese Christian leaders arrested

December 22 2015 by Morning Star News staff

JUBA, South Sudan – Security officials have arrested two Sudanese Christian leaders near Khartoum and are seeking to re-imprison two pastors who were freed in August, Morning Star News has reported.
The National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) arrested two leaders of the Sudan Church of Christ (SCOC) at their respective homes at 7 a.m. on Dec. 18, Morning Star reported Dec. 20. Kowa Shamaal, SCOC head of missions, was arrested in North Khartoum, while Hassan Abdelrahim, SCOC vice moderator, was arrested in Omdurman. Both men also are pastors.
Family and church officials were given no reason for the arrest of the leaders, who have objected to government demolition of SCOC churches. The leaders’ whereabouts were unknown but a source in Khartoum told Morning Star News they are in detention at an undisclosed NISS site in Khartoum state.
“We have not gotten any information on why our pastors were detained, and their families have not been informed also,” an SCOC official told Morning Star.
Authorities in the Karari area of Omdurman demolished an SCOC building on Oct. 27 without prior warning, after bulldozing a Lutheran Church of Sudan building on Oct. 21. Church leaders adamantly denied a government claim that the SCOC building was on government land. The SCOC church was established in 1998.
Shamaal’s church was demolished in the Hai Thiba Al Hamyida area of North Khartoum in June 2014.
Both church leaders are from the Nuba Mountain region of South Kordofan state. Ethnic Nuba, along with Christians, face discrimination in Sudan, where President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to adopt a stricter version of sharia Islamic law and recognize only Islamic culture and the Arabic language.
Harassment, arrests and persecution of Christians have intensified since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011. Sudan’s minister of guidance and endowments announced in April 2013 that no new licenses would be granted for building new churches in Sudan, citing a decrease in population with South Sudanese ties.
Sudan has expelled foreign Christians and bulldozed church buildings since 2012 on the pretext that they belonged to South Sudanese. Sudan fought a civil war with the South Sudanese from 1983 to 2005, and in June 2011, shortly before the secession of South Sudan the following month, the government began fighting a rebel group in the Nuba Mountains that has its roots in South Sudan.
Christians in Sudan are appealing to the international community for prayer and advocacy for the release of Shamaal and Abdelrahim.
“Let’s pray that God will be with them in any situation, including torture,” a Christian in Sudan said. An SCOC member added, “We know for sure God is on their side, even if they are in prison.”
The arrests came weeks after an appeals court in Khartoum issued a warrant ordering that two South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SSPEC) pastors freed in August be returned to prison while their case is reconsidered on appeal.
Yat Michael and Peter Yein Reith, who reportedly have relocated with their families to a country outside Sudan and South Sudan, had been imprisoned for eight months on alleged capital crimes punishable by death but were convicted of lesser charges and released Aug. 5 on the time they had served. (See related BP stories here and here.)
Michael, 49, was arrested after delivering messages encouraging Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church; the church was the subject of government harassment, arrests and demolition of part of its worship center as Muslim investors have tried to take it over. Reith, 36, was arrested on Jan. 11 after submitting a letter from SSPEC leaders inquiring about Michael’s whereabouts.
Due to its treatment of Christians and other human rights violations, Sudan has been designated a Country of Particular Concern by the U.S. State Department since 1999, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the country remain on the list in its 2015 report.
Sudan ranked sixth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2015 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face most persecution, moving up from 11th place the previous year.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This story first appeared in Morning Star News,, a California-based independent news service focusing on the persecution of Christians worldwide. Used by permission.)

12/22/2015 9:20:56 AM by Morning Star News staff | with 0 comments

16,000 salvations via mobile game reported

December 22 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Biblical narratives of Eve, Noah, Moses and others are unveiled in Stained Glass, a new mobile app by Lightside Games, whose products have led to at least 16,000 salvations on in partnership with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Lightside reported.
A match-three game, Stained Glass allows players to unveil stories by winning pieces of colorful, broken glass that fit together to create Bible scenes on stained glass windows. Animated characters share narratives unveiled piecemeal through increasingly challenging levels.


Screen capture from Lightside Games

The March, 2015 game joins the family of Christian games by the company that debuted in 2010, offering in 2011 Journey of Moses, and in 2012 the popular Journey of Jesus: The Calling. More than 7 million people in 200 countries have played the games, according to Lightside., a BGEA product offered in partnership with, provides answers to spiritual questions posed by Lightside players driven to the website from the game page. As of March, more than 150,000 Lightside users had logged onto the salvation website, according to BGEA.
Stained Glass is unique as the first Lightside game available as a mobile download from the App Store and Google Play; previous Lightside games are Facebook-based. Stained Glass is a free download with in-game purchase opportunities, and features Hillsong United’s hit song “Oceans.”
“We’re trying to engage people in God’s story and to reach people who otherwise might not be reached,” Lightside founder Brent Dusing said in a BGEA interview. “Stained Glass is the best product that we’ve ever made. … It doesn’t replace Scripture, of course, but we hope it helps people engage in a new way and ask questions.”
Dusing, a Harvard University economics graduate, expresses a passion for spreading the gospel that ignited after he viewed the 2004 movie “Passion of the Christ.”
“That movie planted a dream in my heart, that if you could combine excellent entertainment with God’s truth, you could make a real difference, because it made a difference for me,” Dusing said in a video posted at “God gave us the mission to reach the 600 million people who play games all across the globe and to be a light in the darkness. To date through our partnership with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, we’ve seen over 16,000 people make decisions for Christ. And through those games we have countless testimonies of changed lives.”
Lightside has launched a video campaign focusing on the importance of mobile games and their potential societal impact.
“[Games] shape our character and they shape our culture. They can build us up, or they tear us down. So much of today’s entertainment is filled with darkness,” Dusing said. “Our games are different. … We believe there’s tremendous need for games where faith and fun go hand and hand. At Lightside, we’re on a mission to bring light into the darkness.”
The video campaign features children in a sarcastic presentation focusing specifically on the impact of games on youth.
“My mommy uses a sexting app. She likes to set a good example. It’s amazing,” three children say in sequence in the video. “I’m so psyched my daddy plays grand theft auto. Now I know all the bad words. Bad words are the best words.”
The video is available at

12/22/2015 9:14:41 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

IMB reset prompts reflection on ministry moves

December 21 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The first phase in the International Mission Board’s “organizational reset,” completed this month, has led hundreds of missionaries to confront a question that, at some point, many in Christian service face: How do I know if God is moving me to a new place of ministry?
The IMB has not released the results of Phase One – a voluntary retirement incentive (VRI) offered to all staff and field personnel 50 and older with at least five years of service – because IMB officials say employees have been asked to focus on God’s will rather than on numbers.


“At every step, we have sought to guard the integrity of the process so as not to sway any IMB personnel as they make their decisions,” IMB spokesperson Julie McGowan told BP in written comments. “Instead of personnel looking at each other wondering, ‘How many more of us need or don’t need to make a transition?’ we want personnel looking to the Lord and asking, ‘Are You leading me to make a transition?’”
Results of the entire voluntary resignation program, designed to bring the IMB’s expenses in line with its income, will be announced in early 2016 following Phase Two, which will prompt all remaining IMB personnel to ask whether God is moving them to new fields of service, McGowan said.
The number of missionaries and stateside staff to accept the VRI was finalized Dec. 11. The IMB projects the two phases of its reset will yield a total reduction of at least 600 individuals.

Discerning God’s will

Consistent with the focus on God’s will, Baptist Press asked several ministry veterans, including two missionaries who accepted the VRI, how they have discerned the Lord’s leading in ministry moves. Missionaries Stewart and Lissa Roberson, who served more than a decade overseas in the Asia region, told BP God led them to accept the retirement incentive in a way that shattered their paradigm.
“We were just getting to the point where we had reached our language requirement,” Lissa Roberson said. “We felt like we were gaining traction in the community with some relationships we had built. We felt like things were just beginning for us. Then suddenly we were feeling this pressure [from God] to leave. We just could not understand that.”
The Robersons’ process of discerning God’s will involved Scripture reading and prayer, requesting prayer and advice from “committed prayer warriors” and thinking through the practical implications of their decision.
Though God typically has given them an inner sense of peace before they make a major decision, this time the peace didn’t come until after they accepted the retirement incentive. They did not sense taking it was wise from a human standpoint, they said, but felt a strong leading they believed was from the Holy Spirit.
The Robersons are in the process of moving from Japan to the Nashville area, where a local congregation has arranged housing and transportation. They are still seeking a ministry opportunity.
“When it came down to it, we knew we needed to take this” offer, Stewart Roberson said. “And we couldn’t really tell why at that point. We just believe the Holy Spirit was really influencing that decision.”

Leaving something good

Robby Gallaty, pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tenn., said it is not unusual for God to lead His people away from thriving ministries. That’s exactly what happened to him in October, when he moved to Long Hollow from Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“You don’t always have to leave a church when things are bad,” Gallaty told BP, citing advice from a mentor. “God could actually be calling you away at the peak season of ministry in preparation for the guy who’s coming behind you. Why do you always have to leave a church when it’s bad?”
At Brainerd, Gallaty said, “over the course of seven years, our disciple-making ministry grew from about 12-15 in discipling relationships to over 1,200 in discipling relationships” out of 2,100 worship attendees. Though Gallaty was not seeking to leave, he said God confirmed to him, “You have finished the task of creating a disciple-making DNA.”
To leave one ministry and begin another, a Christian should have both a sense of release from the old ministry and a desire for the new one, Gallaty said. “If you don’t have those two elements ... then it’s probably best you stay.”

‘My work was not done’

For Fred Luter, God has never given a sense of release. Luter still serves as pastor of the first church to call him, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans. Nearly 30 years ago, the congregation voted on him as pastor when it had 45 members. Today thousands attend worship each Sunday.
Christians in ministry “need to approach every position as though this is the place they’re going to stay forever,” Luter, a former Southern Baptist Convention president, told BP. “...Don’t despise small beginnings. You bloom where you’re planted unless God tells you for sure, ‘This is another place I want you to go.’
“I tell young guys all the time,” Luter said, “‘It’s unfair to go to a church that has called you as pastor with a resume in your back pocket for the next church that comes along.”
If it is God’s will for a minister to move to a new field, Luter said, He will provide “an inner peace” through wise counsel, full support from the minister’s wife if he is married and has a vibrant, personal relationship with Jesus.
Though Luter has been invited to leave Franklin Avenue on multiple occasions, “each time I just felt my work was not done,” he said.

Practical questions

Sylvan Knobloch, director of church leadership development at the Illinois Baptist State Association, advises ministers considering transitions to answer a series of questions:

  •  Why am I considering this transition at this time?
  •  Does my current ministry setting allow me to be a good steward of my spiritual gifts, passion for ministry, abilities, personality and experiences?
  •  Does the current ministry setting allow my spouse and me the opportunity to develop sustainable relationships? Are we able to develop comrades within the church and confidants outside the church?
  •  Do the current ministry setting’s organizational values and mission match my personal values and mission?
  •  What are the lessons I have learned in my current ministry setting that will allow me to be more discerning when considering future ministry opportunities?

“Change is a part of life. Our ministry settings change and the minister’s gifts, family and calling evolve,” Knobloch told BP in written comments. “Therefore, it is necessary for the minister to exercise discernment regarding their calling to a ministry. I suggest the pastor answer the above questions and pray, asking God for insight and direction.
“The second step in the discernment process is to set an appointment with a trusted friend to review the insights again. The counsel growing out of such a relationship will give the minister invaluable insight as he prayerfully considers his decision and calling,” Knobloch said.

‘Listen to God’

Roger S. Oldham, vice president for convention communications and relations at the SBC Executive Committee (EC), told BP he did not want to leave his longtime pastorate in Martin, Tenn., when he was called to the EC in 2007. But “the dread of being out of God’s will outweighed my reluctance to follow His lead.”
Oldham said he has often returned to seven principles of knowing and following God’s will given to him by a mentor in college:

  •  Be sure your heart is in a neutral position, willing to go or stay or do whatever God guides you to do (Proverbs 3:5-6).
  •  Pray specifically for guidance and wisdom (Philippians 4:6-7).
  •  Meditate on the Word of God (Psalm 119:105).
  •  Seek godly counsel from trusted mentors (Proverbs 11:14).
  •  Trust the Lord for His inner conviction (Colossians 3:15).
  •  Don’t discount common sense (2 Timothy 1:7).
  •  Maintain a good conscience before God and others (Acts 24:16).

As Christians in all walks of life seek to discern God’s will, IMB missionary Stewart Roberson offered a final piece of advice: “Listen to where God is leading, and don’t limit God in our thinking.”

12/21/2015 11:04:38 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Evangelicals unite in push to help refugees

December 21 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Three Southern Baptists are among an interdenominational, ad-hoc group of evangelicals who have drafted and signed a joint declaration on caring for refugees in the midst of a humanitarian crisis affecting nearly 60 million displaced persons worldwide.
A group of more than 100 denominational and ministry leaders and representatives discussed the statement Dec. 17 at the Great Commandment, Great Commission Summit (GC2) at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism (BGCE) at Wheaton College in Chicago, Ill.


Southern Baptists Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research and a BGCE senior fellow; Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, and Micah Fries, vice president of LifeWay Research, are among a 12-member guiding coalition who drafted the statement, though their participation is not intended to signal the support of the entire SBC.
“Moments like these are when Christians cannot remain silent and still,” the statement reads. “In light of this crisis, we commit ourselves and our churches to actively care for and minister to global refugees with mercy and compassion, both here and abroad, based on God’s compelling concern for all people in need and especially refugees.”
The “Christian Declaration on Caring for Refugees: An Evangelical Response” affirms six key beliefs:

  • “Refugees possess the image of God and, as such, are infinitely valuable to God and to us.
  • “We are commanded to love our neighbor, and it is our privilege to love refugees.
  • “As Christians, we must care sacrificially for the refugee, the foreigner, and the stranger.
  • “We will motivate and prepare our churches and movements to care for refugees.
  • “We will not be motivated by fear but by love for God and others.
  • “Christians are called to grace-filled and humble speech about this issue.”

The statement is offered as a Christian humanitarian rather than political response to the refugee crisis, and leaves security and immigration issues to the government, statement drafters said.
“We’re not taking a political stand. Actually the statement specifically says that it’s the role of government to provide security and protect the nation. Other people will debate those issues,” Stetzer said during a Dec. 17 teleconference announcing the statement. “Some of the [public] rhetoric in general has often been demeaning and dehumanizing, and we think that refugees need to be spoken of in ways that are appropriate for people created in the image of God.”
Refugee status is probably not the way potential terrorists would undertake to enter the country, Stetzer said. Page agreed, acknowledging legitimate fear among the public.
“We recognize that security is a serious issue, and we know that many of our people do have fears, and we do not believe that they’re acting irrationally,” Page said during the teleconference. “But when they’re confronted by the true facts … they’ll recognize that the refugees about whom we’re speaking are people who desperately need ministry and are not persons that we need to fear.”
Other drafting coalition members, also acting independently of the groups they represent, are World Vision President Rich Stearns and Director of Church Mobilization Amanda Bowman; World Relief President and CEO Stephan Bauman and Vice President of Advocacy and Policy Jenny Yang; Wesleyan Church General Superintendent Jo Anne Lyon; Assemblies of God Assistant General Superintendent Alton Garrison; Humanitarian Disaster Institute Director Jamie Aten; Sue Elworth, vice president of development, marketing and communications of the Willow Creek Association; and BGCE Interim Executive Director Paul Ericksen.
The statement is intended to mobilize churches in meaningful ways to address the needs of refugees, organizers said.
“It’s been exceptionally gratifying to see a group come together this large, this quickly, with enthusiasm to reach out and help those who will be both coming into this country and also those who need help there in the Middle East,” World Vision Senior Vice President Kent Hill said. “What World Vision would most like to see out of this is that the churches would be mobilized to help in very concrete ways so that people in the Middle East in particular would be able to have their needs met during this very difficult time. … It was the fact that their needs were not being met, in terms of food rations being cut by the United Nations and others, that forced many of them to even flee into Europe.”
Yang expressed a desire to create a deeper discipleship among Christians in building relationships with refugees and a desire to develop educational resources for pastors and church leaders.
“There [are] many refugees overseas that are being served by churches in really difficult situations,” she said, “and hearing their stories, as well as even building relationships with refugees that are living in their own neighborhoods here in the United States, is really important to shape that discipleship.”
Wheaton College will host a Jan. 20 follow-up, live-streamed summit, still being organized, to help equip and mobilize churches to be involved in the refugee crisis in the U.S. and globally.
Lyon expressed a desire to correct misperceptions being promulgated in the public square about refugees.
“The air is filled with this confusion,” Lyon said. Christians need guidance in determining their proper place “in responding to all of the disruption that is there. … And so in that way, congregations will begin to understand what is their place … and then pathways” to take.
Resettlement ministry and global engagement have been signature engagements of evangelicals for decades, Stetzer said.
“This is an issue we have been connected with, not in a few weeks [the timeframe of the statement’s drafting], but over years,” Stetzer said, “that are concerns that this ministry needs to continue.”
Among key statements in the declaration is a call for “Christians to embrace refugees through their denomination, congregation or other nonprofits, by providing for immediate and long-term needs, such as housing, food, clothing, employment, English language classes, and schooling for children.”
“We distinguish that the refugees fleeing this violence are not our enemies; they are victims,” the statement reads. “We call for Christians to support ministries showing the love of Jesus to the most vulnerable, those in desperate need, and the hurting.
“This is what Jesus did; He came to the hurting and brought peace to those in despair. Critical moments like these are opportunities for us to be like Jesus, showing and sharing His love to the hurting and the vulnerable in the midst of this global crisis. Thus we declare that we care, we are responding because our allegiance is to Jesus, and we seek to be more like Him, emulating His compassionate care for the most vulnerable.”
The full statement is online at, and may be signed by supporters at

12/21/2015 10:59:09 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Cochran lawsuit against Atlanta to proceed

December 21 2015 by Joe Westbury, Christian Index

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) lawsuit filed on behalf of former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran will proceed against the city following a ruling by a federal court.
The Atlanta Division of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia dismissed some claims but allowed the suit to go forward on Cochran’s primary claims of “retaliation, discrimination based on his viewpoint, and the violation of his constitutionally protected freedom of religion, association, and due process (firing without following proper procedure),” according to the ADF.


Former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran

Cochran, a deacon at 19,000-member Elizabeth Baptist Church affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention, was terminated on Jan. 6 due to his personal statements on the gay lifestyle. He was unable to comment on the court’s ruling.
In its lawsuit, the ADF – a faith-based non-profit – alleges that the city terminated Cochran “in retaliation for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech.” The lawsuit states, “a public employer may not terminate a public employee in retaliation for speech protected by the First Amendment.”
ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot, in commenting on the ruling, said this week, “A religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant, but the city did exactly that, as the evidence and facts of this case clearly demonstrate.
“We look forward to proceeding with this case because of the injustice against Chief Cochran, one of the most accomplished fire chiefs in the nation, but also because the city’s actions place every city employee in jeopardy who may hold to a belief that city officials don’t like.”
ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman added, “Tolerance must apply to people of different viewpoints, not just those who agree with the beliefs the government prefers. Americans don’t surrender their constitutionally protected freedoms when they become public servants.”
On Dec. 3, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed sharply criticizing his firing of Cochran. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the letter from Commissioner Peter Kirsanow stated, in part, “(I)t is apparent that the city has chosen slender reeds with which to support its dismissal of Chief Cochran. It is remarkable to claim, as the City does, that religious beliefs are not a matter of public concern and therefore are unprotected by the First Amendment.”
The newspaper reported that the letter was a non-binding opinion of the commissioner alone.
The Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) has come out in strong support of Cochran, launching an online petition in January protesting Reed’s action. The petition, bearing signatures from more than 11,000 individuals nationwide and which called for Cochran to be reinstated, was delivered to the mayor’s office on Jan. 13.
Christian Index Editor J. Gerald Harris, in a special Jan. 9 editorial three days after the termination, called for the mayor to “repent or resign.”
At this year’s annual meeting of the state convention in November, Cochran thanked messengers for their support and gave an update on the past year since losing his job and gaining national media attention.
He spoke on Nov. 10 just two weeks shy of the year anniversary of his initial 30-day suspension which led to his termination. During the evening session he spoke of the providence of God in meeting his family’s needs.
The Georgia Baptist reported that he has been called to preach, having delivered his first sermon on July 11, and has since gained employment as chief operating officer at his church, “providing a predictable income” for the first time in 12 months. He then thanked Christian supporters, like the state convention, who stood by him during the most difficult time in his life.
“There are Christians nationwide who have watched how you responded to my situation and have risen to support others in similar situations who have faced trying times for their faith,” Cochran said.
Messengers gave the soft-spoken former fireman a standing ovation for his unyielding stand on biblical values.
GBC Executive Director J. Robert White, with GBC Public Affairs Committee Representative Mike Griffin standing nearby, awarded two elected officials the Legislator of the Year Award for their contributions on pending religious freedom legislation. It was the first time such an award was given.
Receiving the awards were Sen. Josh McKoon and Rep. Sam Teasley. Cochran was also recognized for his stance for biblical truth, which cost him his job.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, news service of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)

12/21/2015 10:54:17 AM by Joe Westbury, Christian Index | with 1 comments

Anti-trafficking ministry receives safe house

December 21 2015 by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press

Rebecca Jowers has been on a mission since earning a seminary degree in 2012.
The mission: to provide help for victims of human trafficking, defined by Jowers as modern-day slavery controlling a person through “force, fraud or coercion to exploit the victim for forced labor, sexual exploitation, or both.” Often the targets of human trafficking are children.
Trafficking is the fastest-growing and second-largest criminal industry in the world, with an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 American children at risk for becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation, according to the website of the Poiema Foundation, which Jowers founded the year after graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary with a master’s degree in Christian education.
Photo courtesy of Poiema
Rebecca Jowers, executive director of Poiema Foundation, shares about how churches can be involved in anti-trafficking ministry.
Jowers, a wife and mother of four, believes her work with the Dallas seminary’s spiritual formation department, with its emphases on leadership and articulating one’s life story, prepared her for the nonprofit, with the encouragement of Rod Vestal, then a pastor at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall, Texas.
During a conversation following a Lake Pointe mission trip to China in 2012, Vestal asked Jowers about her post-seminary plans.
“My big, hairy, audacious goal is to establish a safe house for women coming out of human trafficking,” Jowers replied. Until then, she had only shared this vision with the Lord and her husband Raymond.
Months later, Vestal approached Jowers about starting an anti-trafficking ministry he envisioned at Lake Pointe. Jowers agreed to serve on the leadership team.
“It turns out, I was the team!” Jowers laughed.
For the next year, Jowers continued to research issues related to human trafficking. She visited safe houses in Texas and in Atlanta. She read volumes and attended conferences. With help from others, she developed an after-care program based on Scripture and sound counseling principles. She recruited volunteers and accepted speaking engagements at churches, schools and community groups. In 2013, Poiema Foundation was incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit entity.
“We knew if we were going to have a safe house, it would take the body of Christ, not just one church,” Jowers recounted.
Though an independent ministry, Poiema retains ties to Lake Pointe, where Jowers has been a member 23 years. The church provides meeting space at its Rockwall campus, and Tracy Tuttle, pastor of local mission mobilization, advises Jowers.
“We consider Poiema an alliance ministry,” Tuttle said. “We have vetted it to ensure it aligns with our missions strategy. We encourage member involvement and provide support.”
Many volunteers and board members attend the church. Jowers addresses life groups and speaks at women’s events. Lake Pointe life groups have also held fundraisers for Poiema.
By 2013, Jowers had refined Poiema’s ministry target. Her research revealed major gaps in assistance for victims over 17 who have aged out of foster care and have nowhere to go. The idea for a safe house geared for girls ages 17 to 28 emerged.
“We felt called to step out in faith. God was calling us to establish a safe house,” Jowers said. Potential donors asked where the safe house would be located, but Poiema had no answer.
“We prayed someone would donate a house. But who donates a house?” Jowers said.
In April 2015, Jowers, volunteers and the organization’s board began planning fundraisers for a safe house. Halfway through the month, before any fundraisers were announced, gifts started coming in.
“Before I could even step out in faith, God affirmed our work,” Jowers said. “It was as if He said, ‘I’ve got this. This is My work. You just have to show up.’”
In June, fundraising took a surprising twist when Jowers was invited to speak at a women’s Sunday School class at a church in Frisco, Texas. Lunch at a restaurant afterward found Jowers answering questions about Poiema and the safe house idea at a table of eight with the friend who had invited her to speak.
As they left the restaurant, one of the ladies told Jowers, “I think you may be the answer to my prayers.” She had a home in Texas she no longer needed and offered its use for free. The woman said she had been in the church service asking God what to do with her house.
Jowers, dumbfounded, arranged to meet the woman at her Dallas-area home.
“It was in excellent condition: fully furnished, a safe place with washer, dryer, lawn mower and a refrigerator,” Jowers said.
At first, Jowers assumed the woman intended to sell or rent the home to Poiema. She was wrong.
“It’s going to be your house,” the woman replied. “I am giving it to Poiema.”
Jowers, shocked, realized she had forgotten to ask the donor what the balance of the house note might be. She texted the lady, who texted back, “Paid in full. Don’t you love those words Jesus gave us?”
The Poiema board voted to accept the house and launched fundraising efforts for staffing, house maintenance, operating expenses and property taxes. The legalities of deeding the house to Poiema were finalized in September. As added blessings, Caren Martin, a Lake Pointe member and insurance agent, volunteered to provide insurance for the house, and the ministry was gifted a car in October. The community has no homeowners association or restrictions. The city has no zoning or housing restrictions that might impede the safe house ministry.
Eventually, the safe house will be home to young women involved in the Poiema Foundation after-care program.
Meanwhile, since Labor Day, the safe house has been used as a transitional home for one woman who has completed a 14-month program.
“She is slowly integrating back into life outside a safe house,” Jowers said. “We will provide housing, medical care, counseling, Bible study and mentorship for her for the next year until we officially open.”
Jowers hopes that the official opening date will be in late 2016. For more information, visit or follow Poiema Foundation on Facebook.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)
12/21/2015 10:49:02 AM by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Star Wars prompts old, new analysis

December 21 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The latest Star Wars movie has awakened a force of Christian-themed commentary touching on subjects from the film’s theological errors to its relation to the storyline of the Bible.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” rated PG-13, grossed approximately $238 million in North America for its opening weekend Dec. 18-20 and could earn up to $1 billion in domestic box office revenue, becoming the top grossing movie of all time, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The film is set 30 years following “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” (1983) and chronicles the protagonists’ effort to defeat a totalitarian-led army seeking to conquer the universe.
Among Southern Baptists, a Missouri pastor has written an analysis of theologically troubling themes in Star Wars, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) devoted the cover of one campus publication to the latest film and a SBTS professor has re-released his 2003 book exploring a Christian experience of the first six Star Wars movies.
In the broader evangelical world, Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries, The Heritage Foundation, and The Christian Post among others all have published Star Wars-themed articles.
Phil Boatwright, a Christian movie critic, told Baptist Press “it’s good Christians want to talk about” Star Wars. The series, he said, has generated discussion since 1977, when the initial movie became the highest grossing film to date.
“The people writing about Star Wars today grew up watching it,” Boatwright said. “Star Wars changed the way films were made, beginning a trend of special effects becoming more important than story and inanimate objects becoming central characters. It was then, as now, a phenomenon, with brilliant marketing tactics causing moviegoers to want to see it over and over.”
In his review of “The Force Awakens,” Boatwright said New Age and Eastern religious themes, for which Star Wars movies have drawn criticism from believers in the past, “are pared down a bit.” He called the latest installment “a spin on the western genre, if you will. Or perhaps more precisely, it is a good vs. evil actioneer wherein a price is paid for freedom, truth and the Galaxy way.”
Jake Taggart, director of education at Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo., wrote in an Internet commentary on the church website that Christians should enjoy “The Force Awakens” but be aware of “theological fissures of Star Wars lore that heterodoxically distances it from Christianity.”
Among the theological points noted by Taggart are that Star Wars appears to equate God with forces in the universe – a religious system known as pantheism – and to suggest salvation comes through losing personal identity after death and becoming “one with the Force.”
Despite these themes, “Christ-followers need not fear attending the latest Star Wars movie,” Taggart wrote. He urged parents to discuss with their children the differences between Star Wars and Christianity.
“Star Wars is a great drama, but its theology is not from a galaxy far, far away, but more likely from an earthen region in the far, far east,” Taggart wrote. “Just remember that it is only the Gospel of Jesus Christ that can save humanity.”
At SBTS, the cover of the December-January issue of the campus publication Towers pictures a starry sky and features the headline: “Star Wars: The Wonder Awakens.” A four-page spread discusses “the religious world of the Star Wars saga.”
A message from editor Craig Sanders notes, “The Force Awakens ... is expected to be the biggest movie of all time. If you don’t see this movie, most of your friends and family will, so I hope this issue helps you engage in the task of interpreting movies from a Christian worldview.”
Timothy Paul Jones’ book on Star Wars, “Finding God in a Galaxy Far, Far Away,” was re-released by Waterbrook Multnomah in conjunction with the opening of “The Force Awakens.”
Jones told BP that Star Wars films, like nearly all movies “worth watching,” echo the Bible’s storyline by depicting a good state of existence that is lost and needs to be restored.
“In the best movies, the heroes endure suffering and sacrifice to triumph over evil and bring about a new and better possibility,” Jones, a SBTS professor of family ministry, said in written comments. “This basic storyline characterizes the best movies because this storyline was God’s storyline long before it was ours.
“God created a good world; this world was distorted through the fall of Adam and Eve; God purchased redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; and this glorious resurrection inaugurated a new creation that God will bring to fruition and fulfillment at the end of time,” Jones said.
“The Force Awakens,” according to Boatwright’s review, contains “one mild expletive” along with violence that is “cartoonish,” though there is a “great deal” of killing. The film contains no sex or nudity.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – BR Content Editor Seth Brown contributed to this story.)
12/21/2015 10:42:05 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Syrian refugee sees ‘joy’ at Baptist church

December 18 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

When Syrian refugee Mohammad heard the choir sing at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., he remarked, “I don’t know if I believe what they say, but they sure do have a lot of joy.”
Johnson Ferry Baptist Church pastor Bryant Wright recalled the story as the church continues to help Mohammad, his wife Ebtesam and their 4-year-old son Hasan settle in the Atlanta area.
“We thought that was significant because he hasn’t seen much joy,” Wright, former Southern Baptist Convention president, told Baptist Press. “The Muslim refugees in Syria are just so weary of the hatred and the violence within Islam that obviously they are open as never before to the gospel, which is very exciting to see.”
The family was approved for entry into the U.S. after spending nearly three years in a refugee camp in Jordan, denied certain freedoms, forbidden to work while there and dependent upon siblings in the United Arab Emirates for income. They are hopeful their lives in the U.S. will be different, Wright said, even though there is a growing mistrust and fear of Syrian Muslims in America.


BP File photo
As the Syrian civil war enters its fifth year, more than 10 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported.

“The overwhelming majority are truly victims of the violence in the war of Islam and the Syrian civil war,” Wright said of Syrians.
As the Syrian civil war enters its fifth year, more than 10 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes, according to December numbers from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). About 4.3 million have fled to neighboring countries, 6.5 million are displaced internally and a total of 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian aid, OCHA reported. A quarter million have been killed.
“Christ calls on us in the old covenant and in the new covenant, to care for the widow, the orphaned and the alien or stranger, which is another word that we would use today as immigrant or refugee,” Wright said. “So we’re just called to do what Jesus and the Word of God teaches us to do in sharing the love of Christ with people in need.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is among governors trying to ban Syrian refugees from settling in their states following the Nov. 13 ISIS terrorist attacks in Paris. It was later reported one of the terrorists may have accessed Paris as a Syrian refugee. And concerns toward terrorism continue to mount after the Dec. 2 shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif., committed by a radical U.S. Muslim and his wife, who entered the U.S. from Saudi Arabia on a ‘fiancée’ Visa. The couple killed 14 and injured 21 at the husband’s place of employment before police killed them as they tried to flee their home hours later. Investigators learned the couple had pledged allegiance to ISIS, according to news reports.
U.S. mistrust of Syrians is further evidenced by Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump’s rise in popularity after he said Syrian refugees should be blocked from entering the country. He is now the front presidential hopeful in the Republican presidential primary race that draws many evangelical Christians.
Wright said he believes Trump’s popularity is partly because many Americans have grown weary of political correctness.
“Political correctness is man’s replacement of biblical morality, for man-based morality,” he said. “It is insidious, political correctness is, because its intentions are good, to end discrimination, but it winds up being incredibly oppressive to the average citizen.
“What we need is Christ-centered biblical morality, not political correctness. That is a man-invented idolatrous ideology,” he said.
Wright noted he fully understands the risk of terrorism and respects government’s role to protect the citizenry. After Georgia’s governor announced a ban on Syrian refugees in the state, Wright wrote the governor a letter explaining that his church had already made plans to help Muhammad and his family in partnership with World Relief ministries.
“[The governor’s] role is different,” Wright said. “Romans 13 teaches the role of government is to protect the citizens, to administer justice and to punish evil. I certainly understand his concern. [I] don’t agree with it, but I understand he’s in a different position from where the Christian and the church are to respond to refugees in need. There is risk and people are scared to death in America today, understandably, because Islamic terrorism is a very real threat. But that doesn’t remove the calling we have to minister to refugees in need.”
In addition to sharing the gospel with Muhammad’s family, teaching them English and helping them understand the culture, Johnson Ferry Baptist Church is helping the family with living expenses. Wright described the family, whose last name is withheld, as hopeful, despite the backlash they may experience in the U.S.
“They’re very hopeful coming to America,” he said of the family. “In light of what they have lived through, with relatives and friends being shot and killed and bombed, and then living in just desolate conditions there in Jordan.
“... We have told them about the backlash that they may encounter from Americans who are so afraid right now with Islamic terrorism being such a real threat. So we’ve tried to prepare them that that could happen,” Wright said. “But I don’t think they’re afraid. In light of what they’ve lived through, they are greatly relieved to be here.”
Wright reached out to World Relief months ago to help Syrian refugees resettle here, he said, and encourages other Christians to do what they can to help the population group.
“I would hope every church would be open to ministering to Syrian refugee families that are in our midst. We’re called to share the Good News of Christ and the love of Christ with our neighbor, that’s all mankind,” he said. “I just hope churches would [embrace] opportunities to minister to these refugees who have faced so much hurt.”
Wright points to parables in Matthew 25 which promise God will separate the sheep from goats – believers from nonbelievers – and command Christians to help the “least of these.”
“I just would encourage churches to reach out in faith in Christ, not fear of man,” he said. “I think right now a lot of people are responding in fear.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

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12/18/2015 11:26:28 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

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