December 2015

Texas refugee battle grows as Baptists continue ministry

December 10 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Despite the legal battle Texas leaders wage with the federal government over the resettlement of Syrian refugees, many Baptists retain their tireless commitment to share the gospel with their Muslim neighbors.

 
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Image captured from Sen. Ted Cruz YouTube video
U.S. presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz announced Dec. 8, in a joint press conference with Gov. Greg Abbott, proposed the State Refugee Security Act of 2015.

Texas has received 238 refugees from Syria since 2012, ranking it second highest in the nation, according to a National Public Radio report. Another 21 Syrians were slated to arrive by Dec. 11. Hundreds more will likely follow in the coming year.
 
In September, President Barack Obama ordered his administration to prepare for the admittance of up to 10,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016, due to the humanitarian crisis created by Syria’s civil war.
 
A few days after the Nov. 13 terror attack in Paris, France, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott joined 30 other state governors in a call to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees until stricter immigration policies could be implemented. “We’re not going to accept any more refugees from this dangerous zone,” he said.
 
A Syrian passport was found near the site of one of the Paris bombings, and Islamic militants have allegedly expressed intent to infiltrate the West while posing as refugees, prompting heightened safety concerns by many state leaders.
 
Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, filed a lawsuit against the federal government Dec. 2 to stop the relocation of Syrian refugees into the state, saying resettlement agencies failed to consult with state authorities in advance. The suit also requested a temporary restraining order against refugees from Syria until the matter was settled.
 
On Dec. 4 the request for a restraining order was withdrawn, but the suit for advance notice continues, according to the Attorney General’s website.
 
U.S. presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz announced Dec. 8, in a joint press conference with Gov. Abbott, a piece of legislation that would require the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to notify all states of incoming, eligible refugees 21 days in advance of their arrival. The bill, called the State Refugee Security Act of 2015, would also allow governors to reject refugees if he or she were not satisfied with the eligibility vetting process.
 
In addition, Cruz proposed a three-year moratorium on the resettlement of refugees from any country where terrorist groups control a significant amount of territory.
 
Attorney General Paxton made a second attempt at blocking incoming Syrian refugees by federal suit, but U.S. District Judge David Godbey rejected the action Dec. 9.
 
In the request, Paxton cited reports allegedly confirming attempts by Islamic militants to infiltrate the U.S. through the refugee program. Godbey said the reports were “largely speculative hearsay.”
 
Tim Ahlen, pastor of Forest Meadow Baptist Church in Dallas and Unreached People Groups Consultant for the Dallas Baptist Association, said the legal action to block refugees was “a misguided attempt to pander to the fears of American people for political gain.”
 
Forest Meadow encounters many Muslim refugees – some Syrian – through their church planting efforts and English-as-Second-Language program, according to Ahlen, who also serves as the executive director for a collaborative church planting effort called the Great Commission Initiative.
 
Twelve Syrian refugees were scheduled to arrive in Dallas and Houston Dec. 7, though resettlement agencies have not confirmed their arrival. Another nine were slated for relocation to Texas on Dec. 10, according to news reports.
 
Nathan Lino, lead pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church and president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said ministry to Syrian refugees is complex, and political controversy has created a “crisis of belief.”

 
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Facebook photo
Nathan Lino, lead pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church and president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, said ministry to Syrian refugees is complex, and political controversy has created a “crisis of belief.”
 

He explained in a blog post on the church’s website: “In our culture’s crisis of belief, two main lines of argument have broken out: one that advocates national security and one that urges compassion and hospitality to Muslim refugees.”
 
Lino, a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., was a trustee for the International Mission Board (IMB) for eight years. He said part of his time with the IMB was spent on the North Africa and Middle East strategy committee. He has taken numerous trips to the region.
 
“They are my great passion,” said Lino. “I’ve stood on a mountain overlooking Syria and heard the ka-boom of a bomb, and I’ve watched the mushroom cloud rise in the air. Women and children were murdered by that bomb, men trying to provide for their families too. … If my mind has been conformed to the mind of Christ, I am, like Him, going to look at humans suffering and feel lots of compassion and grief and be moved to do something about it.”
 
Lino’s view is shared by his congregation as they reach out to refugees in their city in practical, evangelistic ways.
 
Though the ministry is important, he said, it’s not easy.
 
One of the difficulties in ministering to Syrian refugees is finding them. “Our city is huge,” he said, “and it’s not advertised where they are.”
 
Four to six members of the church are normally devoted to locating and engaging refugees. They cooperate with the local resettling agency to find out names and phone numbers for incoming refugees. Volunteers often pick them up from the airport and help refugees move into their new homes.
 
The team helps war-weary families acclimate to life in the U.S. Learning public transportation schedules and registering children for school are small but vital activities that Northeast Houston church members help newly arrived families accomplish.
 
Life for non-English speaking refugees can be difficult and overwhelming. Volunteers do their best to build relationships with them, “so we can get to the gospel over time,” said Lino.
 
The church has also put together more than 150 shoeboxes with presents for refugee children in Houston. The boxes include contact information for the family that gathered the gifts. They hope to befriend the children and their families.
 
Though Northeast Houston’s outreach is close to his heart, national security is an equal concern for Lino.
 
“I have had personal encounters with Muslim radicals in Iraq, the West Bank, Egypt, Libya and Sudan,” he said. “I’ve also encountered them in London, Paris and Marseille. I’ve been told not a few times, ‘when we get done in these countries, we will come to America and the blood of your children will flow.’”
 
He continued, “I have major concerns about our national security. I want refugees and immigrants of any kind to be thoroughly vetted. I think those who want to be considered for asylum in our country should recognize that terrorists are hard to detect and practice the same religion as the asylum seekers, and therefore understand and accept our desire for asylum seekers to be properly vetted.”
 
Immigration policies are not abstract for Lino, they’re personal. He was born in South Africa, and his family immigrated to the U.S. when he was in middle school.
 
“My family was vetted by the U.S., and I’m grateful,” he said. “I do not think it is at all un-Christian to protect my wife, children, aging parents, loved ones and the nation to which I’ve pledged allegiance.”

(EDITOR'S NOTE – Seth Brown is content editor for the Biblical Recorder, news journal of North Carolina Baptists.)

Related Stories:
Syrian refugees: balancing compassion & security
‘Peoples Next Door’ continues amid refugee controversy
Syrian refugees finding help from WMU Foundation

12/10/2015 1:27:59 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Women in combat: DOD change spurs debate

December 10 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

U.S. Department of Defense’s decision to open all military combat positions to women has rekindled a theological and practical debate on the role of women in battle.
 
“It is no shock that a secular society that has embraced feminism and transgender ideology is now confused about gender roles and war,” said Owen Strachan, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. “Men have no idea who they are today. Their grandfathers bled out on the beaches of Normandy to save civilization, but most men have no functional concept of masculine self-sacrifice. We men ask women to provide for us, to do all the work around the house, to disciple the kids and even to die for us. These are shameful days.”

 
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Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy J. Fowler

 
In a Dec. 3 announcement, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said “there will be no exceptions” to permitting women to enter elite combat forces “as long as they qualify and meet the standards,” according to The Washington Post. About 220,000 jobs, some 10 percent of the American military, have been closed to females but will open Jan. 2. Among the previously closed jobs are positions in the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces and Marine Corps infantry.
 
Carter’s decision capped a decades-long loosening of restrictions on women in the military, including a 2013 decision by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to lift the ban on women serving directly in ground combat units.
 

Gender roles debated

Strachan, who also serves as associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said scripture teaches men should protect women and children – a principle with obvious application to military service.
 
“Christian men read our Bibles,” Strachan said in written comments. “We see godly warriors raised up by God to defend His people and honor His name. We don’t skip over the parts about David’s mighty men, Joshua, Solomon and men of martial virtue. These stories are burned onto our hearts. We see them reflected in the Western tradition. Our pulse moves faster when we hear of Churchill, De Gaulle, MacArthur and the men they led into battle against evil adversaries.
 
“Christian men know that war is terrible,” Strachan continued. “We do not ask for it; we confess with Augustine that war must be just to be fought. But we also know this: there is one thing ... worse than dying – being a coward.”
 
On the opposing side of the debate, Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, said Scripture and history both point to the qualification of women for combat service.
 
“Women’s military acumen dates back to biblical women like Jael who singlehandedly rescued Israel by skillfully subduing Sisera and pounding a tent peg into his head, Judges 4:21,” Haddad told BP in written comments. “While history is scant on details, women served in the Special Forces and even on the front lines in WWI and WWII, though they rarely received equal benefits or recognition for making the same sacrifices as their male peers.
 
“Like women missionaries who flooded the world’s most dangerous corners, often outnumbering men two to one, women have never shied away from danger when a higher goal might be attained,” she said. “The question should be: is the person qualified to serve, not what is their sex.”
 
Countries that allow females in combat roles, Haddad said, “have discovered that women not only attain the same qualifications as men. They also have distinct advantages” like the ability at times to “collaborate successfully with local women to identify and disarm hazards such as mines.”
 

SBC resolution

In a 1998 resolution, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) opposed “the training and assigning of females to military combat service” because doing so:
  • “Rejects gender-based distinctions established by God in the order of creation”;

  • “Undermines male headship in the family by failing to recognize the unique gender-based responsibility of men to protect women and children”; and

  • “Subordinates the combat readiness of American troops, and the national security of the United States, to the unbiblical social agenda of feminism.”

Mike Whitehead, an attorney who formerly served in the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps and chaired the 1998 SBC Resolutions Committee, said “Southern Baptists’ convictions about God’s complementary design regarding gender roles have not changed” during the past 17 years.
 
“The biblical texts and the practical applications of the 1998 Resolution on Women in Combat would receive strong affirmation in most Southern Baptist churches today,” said Whitehead, who has served on the staffs of two SBC entities. “Today’s policy promising ‘equal opportunity’ for women to seek combat jobs will become tomorrow’s policy demanding ‘equal obligation,’ and if need be, forcing women to be drafted and assigned to combat roles. The military is a place to train warriors and not a place to experiment with social revolutionaries.”
 
A joint statement from the Senate and House armed service committee chairmen suggested lifting combat bans could trigger changes in the Selective Services Act requiring women to register for the draft along with men, as Whitehead suggested.
 
The SBC resolution, while expressing “deepest gratitude and honor” to women who have served in the military, argued that “God, by creating Adam first and also by creating woman ‘an help meet for him,’ has set the gender-based role and responsibility of males in the most basic unit of society (the family) to be that of leader, provider and self-sacrificial protector, and likewise has set the gender-based role and responsibility of females to be that of help and nurture and life-giving under male leadership and protection.”
 
The lethal purpose of military conflict is “aligned” with God’s role for males, the resolution stated, but “opposed to the female role.”
 
In addition, the resolution noted, “The pattern established by God throughout the Bible is that men, not women, bear the responsibility to serve in combat if war is necessary.” Scriptural examples of women in combat, like Deborah and Jael in Judges, “are presented as contrary to proper and normal gender-based distinctions, and result from a shameful failure of male leadership.”
 
The resolution also cited practical concerns with women in combat, a point echoed this year by the Marine general who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. Armed Forces, recommended this fall that certain front-line combat jobs in the Marines remain closed to women, the Associated Press reported.
 

‘Less combat effective’?

A Marine Corps study released in September found that in 93 of 134 military tasks, all-male units outperformed mixed-gender units that included one or two women, NPR reported. All-male units moved to targets faster, shot targets more accurately and evacuated wounded Marines faster than their mixed-gender counterparts.
 
In a 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed, former Marine Ryan Smith suggested allowing women in combat roles could make military units “less combat effective.”
 
While a woman “is as capable as a man of pulling a trigger,” Smith wrote, it could be “distracting and potentially traumatizing” for troops to endure “the absolutely dreadful conditions” of war in front of members of the opposite sex. In Smith’s experience fighting in Iraq, Marines were forced to sit in each other’s laps for hours on end and remove their clothing alongside one another, he said.
 
Douglas Carver, a former U.S. Army chief of chaplains, said active military members are unlikely to speak publicly against the decision to open combat roles to women because their Oath of Enlistment requires adherence to the lawful decisions made by their commanders regardless of their personal views.
 
Carver, a retired Major General, commended the military service of women.
 
“From a professional point of view as a retired Army officer and chaplain, it’s hard to argue or disagree with Secretary Carter’s decision,” said Carver, the North American Mission Board’s executive director of chaplaincy. “Women in the Armed Services have proven their professional competence and physical endurance in combat over the last 14 years of war, with over 150 women killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan who have paid the full measure of devotion to duty.”
 
Still, Carver raised questions about the new policy.
 
“My personal concern is that the Department of Defense may have made this decision more concerned about political correctness instead of combat readiness. With that in mind, I’m left with more questions than answers from last week’s decision that will now allow women to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead small infantry units, Army Rangers or Navy SEALs into war,” Carver said in written comments.
 
“Why is our nation willing to intentionally arm military women for close combat operations? Have we determined to adjust historically proven military standards solely for political reasons? Are we willing to ignore the biological differences between men and women, the complicated logistical management of physical hygiene and living quarters required by members of the opposite sex and the potential breakdown of unit cohesion in order to accommodate this new policy? How will this new policy affect Southern Baptists’ support of the Armed Services? Have we made a costly decision that may inevitably lead to our shame?”
 
Each branch of the Armed Services was given 30 days to draft plans for implementing the change, according to The Washington Post.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 
Related Story:
Defense secretary orders all combat positions open to women

12/10/2015 1:19:38 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Christmas in ‘disguise’ admonition dropped by UTK

December 10 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

For the second time in recent months, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK) has removed a controversial Web post from its diversity office after chief state politicians threatened funding cuts and called for employee resignations and terminations.
 
A December website post urging UTK employees to respect a diversity of beliefs when hosting parties during the Christmas season has been dropped in favor of a more general message posted on the UTK website.
 
“As we enter the holiday season, please be mindful of the rich diversity of our campus community,” the revised post reads in part, and makes no specific mention of Christmas. “Recognizing a wide variety of cultures and beliefs, we should note that people choose to celebrate in different ways and on varying days of the year.”
 
That’s compared to the original posting days earlier that urged university employees to avoid any “emphasis on religion or culture,” to “ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise,” and to “not play games with religious and cultural themes” such as “Secret Santa.”
 
As recently as September, the university dropped a diversity office posting by UTK Pride Center director Donna Braquet that instructed students and faculty in using what were described as “gender-neutral pronouns” of “ze” and “xyr.”
 
Politicians, including Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan and Tennessee Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, have at times called for defunding the school’s Office of Diversity that operates on an estimated $2.5 million a year, the resignation of UTK Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek and the termination of the entire Office of Diversity staff, according to the Tennessean daily newspaper.
 
At the same time, many supported Cheek in online posts, and others downplayed the seriousness of the issue. In Dec. 8 comments on the UTK website, Cheek thanked supporters and upheld the Office of Diversity under the leadership of Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall.
 
“I am overwhelmed and encouraged by the tremendous support you have shown me and Vice Chancellor Rickey Hall over the past several days, and the strong commitment you have voiced for diversity and inclusion on our campus,” Cheek said. “Our commitment is to share and engage in a broad understanding of people, cultures, beliefs, and experiences. Our campus community fosters a learning environment where the differences of all of our cultures are valued, respected, and celebrated.”
 
Cheek blamed the confusion on “poor communications” that he said had been a distraction.
 
“We define diversity broadly to include all aspects of human difference, including but not limited to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, disability, socio-economic status, and status as a veteran,” Cheek said. “We want to understand how to work across differences to the benefit of our students.” The university aims to retain “a diverse group of students, faculty, and staff,” to improve the campus climate and to integrate diversity and inclusion into education, research and outreach.
 
The controversy is the latest under the administration of University of Tennessee system-wide President Joe DiPietro, including “Sex Week” that focused on sexuality and relationship topics, and dropping the use of “Lady Vols” in favor of “Volunteers” as the nickname for all but one of UT female sports teams, despite a petition of 23,000 signatures to retain the name, the Tennessean reported.
 
After lawmakers called for Cheek’s resignation and the defunding of the UTK diversity office, DiPietro supported other university leaders.
 
“I acknowledge and respect the comments and concerns shared by members of Tennessee’s state and federal legislative delegation regarding the leadership at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in response to a post on holiday observances,” DiPietro wrote. “Chancellor Cheek has achieved remarkable, transformative successes over his past six years at UTK that have been instrumental in advancing some of our most important goals. Among these are increased retention and graduation rates, facility improvements and growing research productivity at UTK.
 
“As such, I am carefully considering any decision with the potential to impact the stability and momentum of our State’s flagship institution,” he said, “in appropriate consultation with our Board of Trustees and with input from UTK faculty, staff and students.”
 
In September, DiPietro said he took “no satisfaction” in removing the post regarding gender-neutral pronouns, the Tennessean reported.
 
“We want to be inclusive, and we want to be campuses that make everybody feel welcome,” DiPietro was quoted as saying. “And we’ll continue to do that. We need to train our students so that they’re competent in these areas.”
 
The four campuses of the University of Tennessee have a combined 2015 enrollment of about 49,000 students, the university reported.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

12/10/2015 1:11:31 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Northwest convention welcomes 16 churches

December 10 2015 by Cameron Crabtree, Northwest Baptist Convention

Sharing the gospel message “from neighborhoods to nations” took center stage as Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) messengers convened Nov. 10-11 for their annual meeting in Portland, highlighting the motive for adopting a $5,267,000 budget for the convention’s 2016 mission efforts.
 
The NWBC meeting drew 320-plus messengers elected by their churches and more 70 other participants.
 

 
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Contributed photo
New officers for the Northwest Baptist Convention are (from left): First vice president Matthew Savage, pastor, Journey Church, Everett, Wash.; president Steve Bryant, member, Highland Baptist Church, Redmond, Ore.; second vice president Josh Martin, worship pastor, Resonate Church, Pullman, Wash.

Among their first actions, messengers approved 16 churches for NWBC affiliation – 14 in Washington and two in Oregon. The convention territory covers Washington, Oregon and Idaho’s northern panhandle. The new affiliations bring the convention’s total of congregations to more than 480.
 
“We are a very diverse convention,” Randy Adams, NWBC executive director, said in welcoming the new churches. “About 135 of our churches speak a language other than English.”
 
Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee, also pointed to the SBC’s increasingly diverse makeup in speaking at the annual meeting.
 
“Things are changing in our convention,” Page noted. “We are the most ethnically diverse convention on the [North American] continent. One out of five churches is ethnic.”
 
Page thanked Northwest Baptists for their part in the SBC’s worldwide mission cause, particularly through the Cooperative Program, the primary funding mechanism used by Southern Baptist churches across the country.
 
“Thank you for your collaborative work with the people of the world,” Page said. “You are part of something great – the Cooperative Program gives everybody a seat at the table. We can all have a part in ministry and mission.”
 
Messengers elected Steve Bryant, a member of Highland Baptist Church in Redmond, Ore., as the convention’s new president over Josh Martin, worship pastor of Resonate Church in Pullman, Wash. Matthew Savage, pastor of Journey Church in Everett, Wash., was elected first vice president as the lone nominee, with Martin then elected as second vice president without opposition.
 
The NWBC’s $5,267,000 spending plan for 2016 represents an increase in the total budget of nearly $169,000 over this year’s budget. It anticipates $2,777,000 in Cooperative Program gifts from the churches, an increase of $57,000.
 
The percentage of the Cooperative Program budget forwarded to the SBC for disbursement to global missions and ministries will rise slightly to 27.255 percent from last year’s 27.25. The amount forwarded to SBC initiatives is expected to increase from $741,000 by the end of this year to $756,733 next year.
 
Partnership funding from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) for 2016 is $1,976,194, an increase from the $1,891,010 in the 2015 budget. Partnership funding between NAMB and the NWBC is spent largely on church planting and evangelism.
 
Messengers also adopted a $120,000 regional offering goal – received by most churches each fall – for church planting (50 percent), Contextualized Leadership Development (20 percent), disaster relief (10 percent), Vacation Bible School (10 percent) and collegiate work (10 percent).
 
Adams, in his annual report to messengers, encouraged churches to trust God for results in ministry and look to His ultimate purpose prevailing.
 
“Our spiritual power and ministry effectiveness is utterly and totally dependent on what God is doing through us,” Adams said. “Don’t see context or circumstances as a limitation to what God can do.”
 
Citing the apostle Paul’s message in Philippians 2:15, Adams said faithful ministries “shine like stars in the night” against the backdrop of spiritual darkness.
 
“There are many communities throughout the Northwest that are known for the wrong things, yet we’ve heard testimonies of those who are having their testimonies renewed,” he said. “Our behavior matters; Christian, godly behavior matters – it’s our witness to a lost and dying world.”
 
Transformation happens “by the way we love, by the way we share the truth,” he said.
 
Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, echoed the importance of every believer sharing in God’s eternal purpose.
 
“You have a responsibility to take this back to your place of ministry and share it where you live,” Iorg said. “Every Christian has this responsibility. When you’re on mission with the gospel, you involve yourself in God’s eternal work, His eternal purpose. When you do that, you plug yourself most closely into God’s grand plan.”
 
Messengers adopted resolutions speaking to a variety of cultural and ministry issues. Among them were statements affirming the work of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams; supporting persecuted Christians and churches in the Middle East; urging prayer for the nation’s political leaders and next year’s presidential election; honoring military service personnel, law enforcement officers and first responders; supporting the work of the International Mission Board; and encouraging intentional evangelism and disciple making in the Northwest.
 
Worship leaders from various Resonate Church sites in Washington and Idaho led convention messengers in praise and worship.
 
The 2016 NWBC annual meeting will be Nov. 15-16 in Spokane, Wash.
 
In news prior to the annual meeting, the Northwest Baptist Foundation unanimously elected Clint Overall, legal counsel for the foundation since 1998, as president. Overall succeeds Thomas Hixson, who resigned earlier this year to join the executive staff of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.
 
Overall began his duties as president Nov. 1, overseeing an entity with about $42 million in funds under management. Its loan portfolio includes 43 loans to churches having an outstanding balance of more than $11 million.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cameron Crabtree is editor of the Northwest Baptist Witness gonbw.org, newsjournal of the Northwest Baptist Convention.)
12/10/2015 1:00:26 PM by Cameron Crabtree, Northwest Baptist Convention | with 0 comments



Louisiana College probation lifted by SACS

December 10 2015 by Norm Miller, Louisiana College/Baptist Press

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) has removed Louisiana College (LC) from probation.
 
SACSCOC placed the Baptist-affiliated college on probation in June 2014, citing issues related to trustee governance, institutional integrity, personnel policies and audit findings that pertain to some financial control matters and student financial aid.
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Photo by Philip Timothy
Louisiana College president Rick Brewer’s announcement on probation cessation was lead story on local television.

 

Rick Brewer, president of Louisiana College, noted in announcing the end of SACSCOC probation Dec. 8, “Due to the hard work of former interim president Dr. Argile Smith and his senior administrative team, SACSCOC removed every citation but one.”
 
Throughout the 18-month period since June 2014, Louisiana College maintained its accreditation but remained on probation most recently because the SACSCOC board of trustees determined that the college had failed to demonstrate compliance with SACSCOC Comprehensive Standard 3.2.4 (External influence) of the “Principles of Accreditation.” The cited standard, which the college now meets, requires an accredited institution to ensure that its governing board is free from undue external influence from political, religious or other external bodies and protects the institution from such influence.
 
Brewer, who became Louisiana College’s ninth president in April after his trustee election in March, voiced gratitude to his administrative team “for their diligence in closely examining this remaining matter and for helping to establish safeguards to ensure compliance with SACSCOC Comprehensive Standard 3.2.4.”
 
Brewer said he also is grateful “for our board of trustees who, in their September meeting, adopted a new bylaw that details how to respond to, and report, undue external influence.”
 
Brewer said he intends for Louisiana College “always to be found in compliance with every accreditation standard.”
 
In a Dec. 8 news conference at the college, Brewer said, “Moving forward, LC remains steadfast in being mission-driven and vision-focused as we build on the solid foundation of a Christ-centered comprehensive liberal arts education, with a vision for preparing graduates and transforming lives.
 
“Embedded in the fiber and fabric of the college is our commitment to a broad-based strategic plan for academic enhancement, faith integration and student learning,” Brewer said. “The framework for all this is our passion for being relational, relevant and rigorous.”
 
LC trustee chairman Randy Harper, in a statement sent to the college, stated, “This is fantastic news, and it’s a great day for Louisiana College.”
 
Harper, in reference to Brewer’s leadership, said it is “confirmation that we found God’s man for the tasks at hand and ahead for LC. The probationary sanction has been weighing on the college, but today, God showed us great favor. Now we can focus on even more things for the college’s future. Our best days are still ahead of us.”
 
Harper, pastor of Bellaire Baptist Church in Bossier City, La., added, “When we were searching for our next president, we sought someone who knew higher-level academia inside and out, who knew how to work with a faculty, who had established new degree programs, and who knew how to work with SACSCOC and accreditation issues. We also sought someone who believed in the authority and inerrancy of the Bible. Clearly, God gave us exactly the right man.”
 
LC trustees, who are appointed by the Louisiana Baptist Convention, unanimously elected Brewer to succeed Joe Aguillard, the college’s president from 2005-14.
 
Before coming to Louisiana College, Brewer had served 28 years at Charleston Southern University in North Charleston, which is affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Brewer most recently was Charleston Southern’s vice president for student affairs and athletics.
 
Bob Agee, former president of Oklahoma Baptist University and an accreditation consultant who has assisted LC with accreditation matters and ongoing trustee training, sent an email statement, noting: “Louisiana College has a long rich history of providing high quality Christian higher education. Dr. Brewer and the board of trustees are to be commended for their diligence and hard work in assuring that LC meets the highest possible standards and expectations of our accrediting bodies. LC is now poised for some of the best days of growth, progress, and achievement in its illustrious history.”
 
Clarence Fields, mayor of Pineville, La., where the college is located, congratulated Brewer in a question-and-answer session after the news conference, saying that the college’s announcement is “important to our community and our state.”
 
Rick Ranson, a 1975 alumnus of LC and a vice president at the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, thanked LC employees and students for “persistence” and for “remaining faithful to the school.”
 
Ranson said “hallelujah” to the assessment that LC’s best days are still to come and then looked at Brewer and said, “Thank you for bringing me back home.”
 
David Hankins, executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, said in a statement to Baptist Press, “Dr. Brewer and his team have done a wonderful job addressing the SACS concerns. We are grateful for the decision and excited about the future of Louisiana College.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Norm Miller is Louisiana College’s executive assistant to the president for communications & marketing. Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston contributed to this article.)
12/10/2015 12:49:18 PM by Norm Miller, Louisiana College/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



LGBT rights group contests N.C. religious freedom bill

December 9 2015 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

A law passed earlier this year, allowing N.C. government officials to opt out of performing marriage ceremonies due to sincerely held religious objections, has been challenged in a federal suit by the Campaign for Southern Equality and others, according to the Citizen-Times. The Asheville-based LGBT rights group claims Senate Bill Two is unconstitutional, saying it allows magistrates who oppose same-sex marriage to place their religious beliefs above their sworn duty.
 
The N.C. bill was passed June 11 after being vetoed by Gov. Pat McCrory and subsequently overridden by the General Assembly. Two weeks later the U.S. Supreme Court decided same-sex marriage is a 14th Amendment right, making it legal in all 50 states.
 
Meghann Burke, an attorney in the suit, told the Citizen-Times, “Senate Bill Two seeks to undermine the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling and uses taxpayer funds to promote a single, particular religious viewpoint. … When a magistrate is acting within his or her official capacity, he or she is the government. Government has no right to establish, promote, or respect a particular religious viewpoint.”
 
The lawsuit states, “[Senate Bill Two] deliberately and maliciously, compromises, impairs, and violates the constitutional integrity of the judicial system that must guarantee due process of the law to gay and lesbian citizens.”
 
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said, “While these activists may now have a right to homosexual marriage, they do not have a right to force dissenters to perform it,” according to a Citizen-Times report.
 
The suit was filed Dec. 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina.

12/9/2015 4:24:14 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Study: New churches show appeal among the unreached

December 9 2015 by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Research

America is launching new Protestant churches faster than it loses old ones, attracting many people who previously didn’t attend anywhere, new LifeWay Research studies show.
 
More than 4,000 new churches opened their doors in 2014, outpacing the 3,700 that closed, according to estimates from the Nashville-based research organization based on input from 34 denominational statisticians.
 
And on average 42 percent of those worshipping at churches launched since 2008 previously never attended church or hadn’t attended in many years, LifeWay Research found in an analysis of 843 such churches from 17 denominations and church planting networks.

 
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The church planting study indicates newly planted churches are more effective than existing ones at drawing people who aren’t connected with a church, said Ed Stetzer, LifeWay Research executive director.
 
“In winning new converts to Christ, church plants are light-years ahead of the average church because of their focus on reaching the unchurched,” Stetzer said.

 

Characteristics of success

Successful church launches have several factors in common, the 2015 National Church Planting Study shows:

  • Meeting in a public space. New churches meeting in schools have significantly higher worship attendance than other new churches. They report more new first-time commitments to Christ and are more likely to become financially self-sufficient.

  • Focusing on outreach. New churches offering sports leagues, social gatherings and children’s special events are significantly more likely than other startups to be congregations with a majority of people who previously did not attend church.

  • Supporting their leaders. Adequate compensation and health insurance for the church planter are linked to higher worship attendance and a greater likelihood of financial independence for the new church.

  • Starting more churches. New churches that invest in church planting and launch at least one additional new church in the first five years report higher worship attendance and more new commitments to Christ.

“Healthy new churches have an outward focus from day one, communicating every month that the goal is to be a multiplying church,” Stetzer said.

 

Back to basics

Though some pastors bristle at new churches coming into their community, they have more to learn – and less to fear – from the startup down the street, Stetzer said.

 
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One lesson is the value of time-tested methods. While most church plants use the Internet for outreach, 77 percent say word of mouth and personal relationships are the most effective forms of publicity. Only 6 percent say social media is most effective. Nearly two-thirds of new churches (63 percent) say Bible study is their primary small group activity.
 
“It’s not the most innovative things that matter most. It’s the nuts and bolts,” Stetzer said.
 
“An existing church can take notice and ask, ‘Hey, are we doing those things? Are we making sure people in the community know we exist? Are we inviting people to come and making them feel welcome and all those things a church plant does?’”
 
In addition, Stetzer said, new churches can attract demographic groups that may be largely unreached by existing ones. Sixty percent of church plants aim to reach a cross-cultural or multiethnic group of people from the outset.
 
“It takes multiple methods to reach a diverse population,” Stetzer said. “The United States from its founding has been a very diverse population. A one-size-fits-all church has never been part of the American equation.
 
“As much as ever, we need different approaches to reach different types of people.”
 
Additional reports from the study will be available at NewChurches.com.
 
Methodology: The 2015 National Church Planting Study report analyzes 843 churches started in 2008 or later that continue to exist today. The study was sponsored by 17 denominations and church planting networks that participate in the Church Planting Leadership Fellowship: Assemblies of God, Baptist Missionary Association of America, Center for U.S. Missions (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod), Christian and Missionary Alliance, Converge Worldwide, Evangelical Free Church of America, Free Methodist Church USA, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Texas District, New Thing Network, North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention), Presbyterian Church in America, Project Jerusalem, Path1 (United Methodist Church), Southern Baptists of Texas, Vineyard Church and The Wesleyan Church. Lists of church plants were provided by the sponsors and the Church of the Nazarene and the Missionary Church. From May-August 2015, planters were individually invited to complete the online survey by email, phone and postcard. Factors associated with church planting success were determined after controlling for church demographics, denomination/church planting network, U.S. state, church planter characteristics and other characteristics.
 
Estimates of the number of 2014 Protestant church starts and closures are based on unofficial reports LifeWay Research gathered from 34 denominations that represent 55 percent of U.S. Protestant churches. The pattern in this large sample was applied to the non-reporting and non-denominational groups to provide the overall estimate.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Cannon Green is senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine at factsandtrends.net, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/9/2015 11:54:30 AM by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments



Former Muslim now leads ‘community of outcasts’

December 9 2015 by Sharon Mager, BaptistLIFE

S.D. Abraham is a soft-spoken, middle-aged man born in Baghdad, Iraq. He lives in a nice quiet northern Virginia neighborhood with his wife and children. And, he travels the world helping Muslims convert to Christianity.
 
Abraham has seen thousands of Muslims come to Christ. In fact, in his role as pastor of Salam Church, Abraham serves as a father figure to many who have lost everything as a result of following Jesus.
 
Abraham is quick to note that Salam Church isn’t and can’t be a typical church gathering. It is, however, a community. Congregants don’t meet in large groups; they network to find other believers for support. In many Muslim families, Christian converts are cast out, disowned and sometimes even killed for their faith. It is a dangerous ministry but God is blessing and there is much fruit.
 
“We are a community of outcasts,” Abraham said sadly. “Outcasts reaching outcasts.”

 
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He is considered a trusted resource for those new to the faith. Many have no one. Many stay in their Muslim communities without revealing their true belief. One man said he goes to the mosque and prays to Jesus while others are praying to Allah.
 
There are plenty of Muslims masquerading as new Christians in an effort to root out and target Muslim converts. That’s why people like Abraham, who are known to be trusted, are priceless.
 
While in Jordan, Abraham recalled a young woman in her 20’s who came to him wearing a veil. She was a believer in Jesus but had not told her family. “They found a good Muslim man for me to marry, what do I do?” the panic-stricken girl asked. Abraham introduced her to a former Muslim turned Christian who is now her husband.
 
That’s just one example of many. Men and women contact Abraham, frantic and in need of answers. Sometimes they’re desperate to just find other believers that they can trust.
 
People are searching for community, Abraham said. In the United States, many immigrants arrive lonely and lost. They desperately need help and direction. Muslims meet them and take them to the nearest mosque, get them in a community with the support system they need.
 
Abraham has been seeking to build a support system for Muslim to Christian converts.
 
It was while trying to convert non-Muslims that Abraham discovered truth. He explained that Islam is a works-based faith. The good and bad are weighed on the scales. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Abraham was worried. What if a bomb fell and killed him? Where would he be? He decided to get some more “good” credits for the scales and work to convert non-Muslims. To be effective, he decided to get a Bible and read it to understand Christianity. When he began to read, his life changed.
 
According to the Quran, the Bible, Abraham had been taught, had been corrupted. But that didn’t make sense to him.
 
“As soon as I started reading [the Bible], it didn’t sync,” Abraham said.
 
There was much more information in the Bible about creation and about Abraham. “The Quran just gave glimpses,” Abraham said.
 
Abraham began to wonder, why would God preserve the Quran but not the Bible? Either Allah was weak, or he was strong enough to preserve the Bible like he did the Quran.
 
In the Bible Abraham found that the first Adam ate the fruit and died but the last Adam, “Jesus,” was sinless, and brought restoration. Abraham lost faith in the Quran.
 
It was the beginning of his faith journey. He grew, as he trusted the Bible. He became a believer in 1991. Later, as a refugee in Europe, God used him to minister to Muslim refugees, and he taught Bible studies to Christian and Muslim-born Arabs.
 
Later, Abraham became a webmaster for answering-islam.org, where he writes articles and interacts with curious Muslims and those being drawn to Jesus. It’s a huge opportunity.
 
Years ago, Abraham said, it was much harder to get the Word out. They used short-wave radios. Now, you can’t stop it, he said.
 
In 2004, he became the Islamic Ministries Specialist with Avant Ministries, through which he speaks at seminars, recruiting and training missionaries and other Christians how to minister to Muslims.
 
Abraham is available to work with churches to help them understand Islam, and as they prayerfully consider how to interact and minister to their Muslim neighbors.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article appeared in BaptistLIFE at baptistlifeonline.org, newsjournal of the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network. Sharon Mager is a correspondent for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network.)

12/9/2015 11:49:18 AM by Sharon Mager, BaptistLIFE | with 0 comments



Title IX exemption fair, leaders say

December 9 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A federal exemption that excuses some Christian schools from complying with certain Title IX gender provisions does not foster discrimination but protects religious freedom, supporters of the exemption told Baptist Press.
 
At least 30 Christian schools have received exemption from Title IX provisions requiring equal treatment based not only on biological gender, but also transgendered identity, records released by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) reveal. At least half of the affected schools are Southern Baptist and ruled by boards of trustees appointed by state Southern Baptist conventions.
 
Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn., is one of the latest Southern Baptist schools to receive the exemption.
 
“Yes, the spirit of the exemption is to conduct our school according to Christian tenets,” university president Randall O’Brien said. “Carson-Newman fully supports equal rights for all in society. We do not discriminate against our students or against any students applying to Carson-Newman. Carson-Newman also supports First Amendment rights for churches and religious schools, which grants these bodies religious freedom to follow their religious principles.”

 
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The Southern Baptist schools have been granted exemption from stipulations regarding admission preferences, standards of personal behavior for students and employees, the use of restrooms and locker rooms, participation on athletic teams, counseling offered to students, financial assistance and recruitment practices, among other rules.
 
“An institution that is controlled by a religious organization is exempt from those sections of the Title IX regulations that are inconsistent with religious tenets of the organization,” reads a statement explaining the exemption on the DOE’s website. “An educational institution which wishes to claim the exemption may do so by submitting in writing to the Assistant Secretary a statement by the highest ranking official of the institution, identifying the religious organization that controls the educational institution and the provisions of this part which conflict with a specific tenet of the religious organization.”
 
Carson-Newman’s reasoning is in line with other Christian schools that have applied for and received the religious exemption.
 
“We applied for the exemption upon counsel of our attorney who recommended the same approach to 15 of his other Christian college clients, who also filed the template letter,” O’Brien said. “The purpose was to clearly identify each school as a Christian institution, thereby strengthening First Amendment standing.”
 
The Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) Executive Board has passed a resolution on transgender issues designed to support Texas colleges seeking the exemption, currently granted to East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Howard Payne University in Brownwood, and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, all controlled by the BGCT. See related Baptist Press story.
 
Ferrell Foster, director of Ethics and Justice for the BGCT Christian Life Commission, told BP he believes applications for exemption were prompted by the DOE’s addition of transgender as a protected class in Title IX in 2014.
 
“The exemptions that some schools are now pursuing are primarily based on the transgender issue,” Foster said. “Making transgender a protected class creates practical challenges for any university, and those that believe gender is biologically determined are in a position of being asked to do something they fundamentally believe is a misunderstanding of gender.”
 
The exemptions, which grant the schools immunity from having to do such things as allow biologically identified boys to use girls’ locker rooms and restrooms, are not discriminatory against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community, Foster said.
 
“Those schools that pursue an exemption are merely saying that because of their foundational principles they do not wish to make accommodations for behavior they consider unethical and to the detriment of the learning experience,” Foster said. “In short, this issue is not about discrimination toward the LGBT community; this is about a desire to not make accommodations for a newly protected class of persons according to the Department of Education. Exemptions are being sought because to accommodate such practices is to be forced to violate biblical and ethical understandings of gender.”
 
The exemption allows schools to discourage sexual relations outside of marriage, adultery, same-sex marriage, homosexuality, abortion, gender identity not based on biology, pregnancy outside of wedlock and other behavior prohibited in scripture.
 
In granting the exemptions, the DOE said schools are still held to other Title IX regulations not specified in the exemptions, and are subject to compliance reviews.
 
Other Southern Baptist-supported schools that have received the exemption are Anderson University, Charleston Southern University, and North Greenville University, all affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention; Judson College and the University of Mobile, affiliated with the Alabama Baptist State Convention; Louisiana College, affiliated with the Louisiana Baptist Convention; Oklahoma Baptist University, affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma; Union University, affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention (as is Carson-Newman); the University of the Cumberlands, affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention; and Williams Baptist College, affiliated with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
 
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was signed into law by former President Richard Nixon and was originally designed to protect the rights of women to participate in federally funded school activities. The main statement of the law, as published on the DOE website is, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
 
Affected by Title IX are about 16,500 local school districts, 7,000 postsecondary institutions, and an unspecified number of charter and for-profit schools, libraries, museums, vocational rehabilitation agencies and the education agencies of 50 states, D.C., and U.S. territories and possessions, according to the DOE.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

12/9/2015 11:40:16 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



NFL’s Watson: ‘Changed hearts’ can heal racial divide

December 9 2015 by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS

Race is an issue that continues to divide, said New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson during a book signing at the LifeWay campus store at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS).
 
The solution is “changed hearts” in Christ, Watson said.

 
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Photo by Marilyn Stewart
New Orleans Saints tight end Ben Watson shakes hands with a fan before signing a copy of his new book “Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race – And Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us” that calls for racial reconciliation in Christ.

The event fell on Nov. 24, the one-year anniversary of the ruling in the racially charged Ferguson, Mo., case of the shooting death of Michael Brown. Watson’s book, Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race – and Getting Free from the Fear and Frustrations that Divide Us, expands on his lengthy Facebook post that resonated with readers the day after the news broke that officer Darren Wilson would not face criminal charges for the shooting death of Brown.
 
“[Race] is something that keeps on coming up,” Watson said. “It’s something we’re always talking about and it’s not seeming to be going anywhere.”
 
Calling his book “part manifesto, part memoir,” Watson told the line of fans that snaked past shelves and out LifeWay’s door that he put his thoughts to paper after seeing a public reaction to the verdict that seemed to split along racial lines.
 
“I was conflicted because so much was tied into it. I wanted to work out my thoughts,” Watson said. “I didn’t even know how to post,” Watson quipped, saying he had to call on a friend for help.
 
Soon afterwards, Watson found himself behind the microphone taking questions on the issue of race. The book followed.
 
NOBTS President Chuck Kelley noted, “Clear. Honest. Thoughtful. Distinctly Christian. This is how you talk about complex, emotional issues.
 
“This voice and this issue need to be part of a national conversation to push us closer to becoming the country, the church of our ideals,” Kelley said. “Watson gives us a terrific model on how and why Christians must engage in all conversations about things that matter.”
 
The chapter titles give clues as to Watson’s feelings after the Ferguson verdict: Angry; Introspective; Embarrassed; Sad and Sympathetic; Offended; Encouraged; and others.

 
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Photo by Marilyn Stewart
New Orleans Saints tight end Ben Watson signs copies for waiting fans of his book “Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race – And Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations that Divide Us” at the LifeWay campus store at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Nov. 24.

Watson’s book and his Facebook post – which included words that later became chapter titles – call readers to examine attitudes and thoughts. For some, it is a call to repentance, Watson told the crowd. For others, it’s a call for forgiveness, he added.
 
Written with Ken Peterson, the book came together during the off-season and through late-night consultations during the Saints’ summer training camp, Watson said.
 
In the book, Watson draws from personal experiences such as being pulled over while driving his wife Kirsten to the hospital for the birth of their first child or how one of his white high school teammates took an unexpected step toward reconciliation.
 
“Really, the whole point and hope of Under Our Skin is that you find your place along this whole racial narrative and that you’re able to take time to think about some of the deep-seated issues or prejudices that you may have,” Watson said.
 
Yolanda Hingle, a mother of three sons and co-leader of a New Orleans-area teen girls’ ministry, said she was nervous about meeting Watson because she doesn’t follow football.
 
“After he spoke for only a few minutes, I realized that this man was so much more than just a football player,” Hingle said. “He is a strong man of God. He is a family man. He’s a man that seeks to further the Kingdom of Christ while breaking down racial barriers and just happens to be a talented football player.”
 
Watson took questions after his opening remarks. Several thanked him for taking a stand.
 
“It’s not something that’s easy. We all have something to lose,” Watson said. “With any accomplishment, there is a cost. Being a Christian is no different. So, I’m always praying for strength for when my time for paying a huge cost comes. It can only be done in His Spirit…. Standing is not done in our own strength.”
 
As each person in the waiting line stepped up for a signature, Watson penned his name and beside it “Gal. 3:28.”
 
Watson lives in New Orleans with his wife Kirsten and their five children. The book is published by Tyndale Momentum, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
 
“We live in a fallen world and we all have our specific prejudices and biases and assumptions,” Watson concluded. “It is through Him we get a changed heart and through that changed heart we can love each other as He would have us to.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marilyn Stewart is the office of public relations assistant director of news and information at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

12/9/2015 11:29:31 AM by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS | with 0 comments



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