December 2016

Missionaries engage a Jewish community in South America

December 12 2016 by IMB staff

It’s not easy for David Harris* to arrange an evening meal with a friend he’s made since moving to South America. Weekends are off limits because Aaron* is an Orthodox Jew and carefully observes the rituals of Shabbat, the Sabbath. On weekdays their meals together have to be taken at kosher restaurants, of which, perhaps surprisingly, there are plenty in their city.

IMB file photo

“I went with him to a kosher McDonald’s. It wasn’t my favorite burger experience,” David recalled. But the fact that kosher McNuggets exist in the city shows the strength of the Jewish community there, the largest in Latin America

Learning faith traditions

David and his wife, Hanna Harris*, both 25, grew up in Baptist churches in Kentucky, but as International Mission Board (IMB) Journeymen, they spend their days at a Messianic Center in the heart of the Jewish community in a South American megacity. Or you might find them frequenting a local Jewish synagogue, taking a Hebrew class, or building relationships in the neighborhood in a variety of ways. 
The couple moved last year from a small town in Kentucky to a city with more than 13 million in its metropolitan area.
They are there to share gospel truth with the Jewish community of more than 200,000. Since the first Jews immigrated to this city in the 19th century, there has been a thriving community there, which grew with further influxes, particularly in the 1930s and after World War II when thousands of Jewish refugees fled Europe.
Many who live there are cultural Jews – from Jewish parentage but not practicing Orthodox Jews.
Because of their flexibility, they are easier for David and Hanna to interact with. Nevertheless, the two have been on a learning curve since arriving in September 2015. 
“It’s been a really huge journey coming from not having a Jewish background,” said David.
Even though his grandfather was a Messianic Jew, he grew up in a very Baptist environment. “We’re trying to soak up as much of the language and culture as we can,” Hanna explained.
David and Hanna are Week of Prayer missionaries for the IMB’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering this month.

Christian expressions

Working with others at the Messianic center, the Harrises celebrate Jewish holidays based on Old Testament stories, but always use those opportunities to bridge to New Testament truths.
For example, during the Jewish holiday of Purim in March, which celebrates Esther’s part in saving her people from Haman’s plot to kill the Jews in the ancient Persian Empire, David and Hanna helped with a play performed at the community center for the neighborhood.
It drew in more than 100 visitors.
One of their deep desires as they seek to touch lives there, is to equip believers to share their faith.
“We want to see Jews come to faith in Christ,” David said.
“We also think it’s important to be modeling evangelism and to be modeling how to study the Bible. Though it sounds really basic, one of the core aspects is knowing the Bible.”
Pray for:
• Jewish leaders to come to know Jesus. If the leaders come to know Jesus, it would radically change the community.
• The equipping of Messianic Jews, those who have embraced Jesus, so they will learn how to share the truth of the Messiah with their own people.
• U.S. churches that feel led to partner with the Messianic Center in the work to reach the Jewish community in this South American megacity. 

*Names changed

(EDITOR’S NOTE – For more about the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering visit

12/12/2016 4:32:37 PM by IMB staff | with 0 comments

Baptist Children’s Homes ‘resolves concerns’ over foster care reform

December 12 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH) said it has ‘resolved concerns’ with lawmakers over foster care reform legislation that could defund most congregate care programs.

Photo by Steve Cooke
Michael Blackwell, president of Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, delivers an annual report to the messengers of the 2016 annual meeting of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

The organization is celebrating changes to the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016 after holding “day-long negotiations,” although no official congressional action took place before the legislative session ended.
In its current form the Family First Act severely limits federal funding for group homes to redirect money to foster care placement prevention and family services, such as drug abuse programs and parent skill-based training.
The bill’s purpose is to “keep children safe and supported at home.”

BCH President Michael Blackwell said the legislation is well intentioned but could lead to unintended consequences.
“Baptist Children’s Homes is a proponent of some aspects of the proposed legislation,” said Blackwell. “Prevention is an essential part of the continuum of care to children and families. However, with the specific kind of family-focused and trauma-informed services many residential care organizations such as BCH offers, Family First in its original form would only allow children to be placed in care for two weeks before having to move them yet again. This is not enough time to do a proper assessment and determine the best possible care for a child depending on his or her unique circumstances.
“In addition, because of the family environment BCH provides, sibling groups that had to be removed from their families are able to stay together in our care. This is seldom the case with other child care placement options as many of them are not able to accept multiple children.”
Blackwell said in an email to the Biblical Recorder that he and BCH Chief Operating Officer J. Keith Henry were “heavily involved in the process of negotiating the language” of the alleged changes, although lawmakers involved in the talks were not named. Details about alleged changes to the bill have not been released.
Blackwell described the bill as “effectively amended,” although no vote was taken before Congress adjourned. Congress will reconvene Jan. 3, 2017.
“We are thankful to the U.S Senate and House representatives from North Carolina who stood with us in believing that all high-quality care options must be available to children,” Blackwell said. “They have worked tirelessly to ensure that the Family First Act will allow all children to receive the care that will best meet their needs.
“We also thank the thousands of BCH supporters who rallied to let Congress know that in its original form, the Family First Act would have had a devastating impact on many of the children that BCH serves. This support absolutely turned the tide in this uphill battle!
“It is BCH’s hope that when the new Congress convenes in January that the amended legislation will be accepted and that all of us who are passionate about the welfare of children and families can celebrate this good news together.”
Some proponents of the bill say group care organizations like BCH come at a high cost to taxpayers but offer substandard services.
A report by The Huffington Post called BCH programs “lucrative” and described congregate care as “warehousing neglected children.”
Blackwell said the description is “ludicrous and grossly inaccurate,” adding that BCH provides excellent support for children removed from dysfunctional homes and federal reimbursements are determined on a county-by-county basis by local departments of social services.
“When the Council on Accreditation (COA) [an independent human service accrediting organization] last reviewed us ... the team leader said BCH had a clear ‘Culture of Excellence’ and they had not encountered an organization quite like ours in all their years of visiting similar ones across the country,” Blackwell said.
“Annual licensing and every-four-year accreditation by COA guarantee the highest quality of care. This, combined with in-house training, which holds staff to a high level of competence, makes BCH the leader in its field. The money that BCH receives from the federal government … doesn’t cover the cost of care of one of our precious children, costs such as food, clothing, education, counseling, instruction, house parents, case managers, support staff, recreation, travel, training and special events.”
BCH operates 21 facilities across the state serving more than 20,000 at-risk youth, single mothers, special needs adults and aging adults.
In their 2016 report to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s annual meeting, BCH said the number of children under their care rose 24 percent in the past two years. In addition, the number of mothers and children coming into their Family Care residential program increased by 314 percent.

12/12/2016 4:28:05 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Heavenly Banquet focuses on refugee ministry

December 12 2016 by Liz Tablazon, BR staff writer

“A glimpse of heaven on earth” is how Ken Tan, leadership development consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), described the Heavenly Banquet Nov. 15 at the Koury Convention Center. The luncheon, an event during the BSC annual meeting, celebrated diversity as families of different ethnicities worshiped and shared a meal together.
Standing in front of a banner with “Hallelujah” painted in various languages, Phil Kitchin, former pastor of Clarkston International Bible Church in Clarkston, Ga., challenged attendees to actively see and serve refugees and immigrants coming to North Carolina.

Speaking from Luke 10, Kitchin drew on the story of the Good Samaritan to illustrate what it takes to reach and care for immigrants and refugees in the state. Before pastoring the multi-ethnic congregation of Clarkston International, Kitchin served as an International Mission Board missionary to Belgium, where he ministered to refugees.
The first step N.C. Baptists must take, he said, is to stop and look. He acknowledged that many in the hall were pastors of ethnic churches and encouraged them to look beyond their own familiar places.
“You see your people group, you know exactly where your people group is. Do you see the other people groups that are in North Carolina?” Kitchin asked.

Second, he said, Christians must stoop down and use their resources.
“To bandage this guy, the Good Samaritan had to get off his donkey and use what he had: oil and wine,” said Kitchin. Likewise, N.C. Baptists can offer the two things refugees perceive as their greatest needs: jobs and the English language.
Kitchin spoke about Clarkston International’s decision to clear out the church library, which was not being used, and turn the space into an internet cafe used solely for helping refugees and immigrants find job openings, create resumes and practice interviews. Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., partnered with the church and provided 10 new computers for the cafe.
“Two things – English and jobs – is what they think they need,” Kitchin said. “What we know they need is a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
So Christians must make financial sacrifices and be willing to face the messiness that comes with cultural differences.
“In order for this guy to get a wounded man on his donkey, what did the Good Samaritan have to do? He had to walk.” Kitchin said. “Are you going to walk beside immigrants and refugees so that they would know Jesus?
“When I read this story, here’s what I see: I am the priest, I am the Levite, some days I’m the Good Samaritan,” said Kitchin. “But you know where I was when Jesus first found me? … I was wounded, and I needed him. … He picked me up and took me to his house and adopted me as His son and said, ‘Whatever the cost is, I will pay it.’”
At a breakout session that later followed the banquet, Kitchin elaborated on other channels of refugee and immigrant ministry, such as providing furniture for families moving into apartments, after school tutoring and healthcare classes. He emphasized that the purpose of each service was ultimately to tell immigrants and refugees about Jesus.
“This is how you earn the right to teach them about Christ.”
12/12/2016 4:24:00 PM by Liz Tablazon, BR staff writer | with 0 comments

Packathon feeds physical, spiritual hunger

December 12 2016 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

In a single October weekend, 520 volunteers at Lake Norman Baptist Church in Huntersville packed 155,520 nutritious meals that will be distributed worldwide by the church and by Feed The Hunger (FTH), a ministry based in Burlington, N.C.
Feed the Hunger partnered with Lake Norman to hold four packathon events in the past three years, according to Ron Hoppe, lay minister of missions for the church.

BR photo by K. Allan Blume
People of all ages and abilities joined Lake Norman Baptist Church's October Packathon organized by Feed the Hunger.

“These meals are a powerful, powerful tool for sharing the gospel here at home, in our country and around the world,” he said. “The meals not only alleviate physical hunger in the short term, but feed the spiritual hunger for now and for all eternity.”
Each packed box has enough food to feed a child for a full year. The packets of dry food contain 20 vitamins that most children in developing nations do not get from their normal diet, according to FTH.
Ingredients packed at the Lake Norman packathon included vegetables, chicken soy, vitamins and pasta. With a shelf life of two years, the total cost of each meal is 28 cents.
Joseph Williams, CEO of FTH, said the meals packed by Lake Norman’s volunteers will arrive in Haiti in about three weeks. Other containers of food are meeting human needs in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Jamaica and Brazil. Large containers of packed food recently went to ISIS victims in Iraq. Boxes of food fed survivors of natural disasters in West Virginia, Louisiana and North Carolina this year.
FTH was founded as New Directions ministry in 1968 by Williams’ parents, J.L. and Patt Williams. In the early years the organization emphasized racial cooperation among Christians through the use of traveling music groups, but later transitioned into a cross-cultural outreach.
After leading the organization for the past 10 years, Williams said three years ago they changed the name to ‘Feed the Hunger.’ “People think ‘physical hunger,’ but we’re obviously thinking ‘spiritual hunger’ on equal footing. We want to do both at the same time,” he explained.

BR photo by K. Allan Blume
Families worked together to put together packets of food for Feed the Hunger, a ministry based in Burlington, N.C.

Williams believes that just as food ministers to the recipient, the packathon is designed to minister to the church. “It’s about getting the whole church in a service project together,” he said. “We want the packathon to be an extension of the church’s mission, not ours.”
Each church is encouraged to keep some of the packed food for use in their local outreach and their overseas mission partners. Lake Norman has delivered boxes of food to local mission needs, as well as to the Eastern European countries of Moldova and Ukraine.
Churches and schools held approximately 75 packathon events this year. Schools, both public and private, often use it as a service project. In some locations food from the packathon is placed in the backpacks of school children to take home for their family.
“We don’t hide who we are or why we do it – we are openly Christian,” said Williams. “We want anyone to feel welcome to do a packathon just like we want anyone to receive the food. Most schools are OK with that.”  
FTH leads packathons at a large, major university in the southeast. Most participants are members of Greek fraternities and sororities on campus that require service projects of the membership, making the project an ideal function.
“We tell them why we do what we do, and they don’t feel threatened with our message,” he added. “We get to share about Jesus in general, and often in specific ways. ... We just rest in the Lord that He will open doors and we’ll just walk through them.”
Williams said the organization was asked to conduct a packathon for one of the largest travel websites in the world. “The feedback was 100 percent positive,” he said. “But after the fact, someone in their HR department was worried that someone might get offended and we have not done one there since. There was no complaint – just the worry that a complaint might come. It’s a shame that it’s come to that.”
Haiti is the destination for more boxes of food than any country served by FTH.
“There is an excessive amount of humanitarian aid in Haiti so we focus on feeding school children,” said Williams. “We want to be part of the process of raising up a generation that’s going to make a difference. We feed 3,500 school children every weekday. Some of these kids have been on these meals for five to six years, and you can see the difference it’s making – not only physically, but in their ability to pay attention in school.”
Williams has felt a growing concern for needs in the United States. “God commands us to help the needy and poor in our land. That has convicted me because I was ignoring 75 percent of the Great Commission. I was working only in the [last part] of the Great Commission. ... We’re all troubled for our country. I think the need is going to grow more and more here.”
Last summer FTH held their first All-American Packathon. “We wanted to create an extra supply of food to help in America in a time of need – not knowing that a couple of months later there would be Hurricane Matthew. ... We were immediately able to deploy food to Lumberton and Fayetteville.”
They partnered with three other organizations in Fayetteville. Some were cooking barbecue, combining it with FTH meals, and distributing the food on site.
Hoppe said Lake Norman joined the special summer packathon. “As a result, we had half of a pallet here when the hurricane hit Lumberton. We were able to get that delivered in two days. It was not enough to meet all of the needs, but it helps in the immediacy of the crisis.”
For more information about Feed the Hunger visit Contact them at P.O. Box 2347, Burlington, NC 27216 or (888) 772-9634.

12/12/2016 4:15:24 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Gatlinburg fire suspects elicit churches’ sympathy

December 12 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The arrests of two teenagers in connection with deadly wildfires in and around Gatlinburg, Tenn., have provoked expressions of sadness from three local Southern Baptist congregations that lost buildings in the blaze.

Submitted photo
Banner Baptist Church in Gatlinburg, Tenn., lost its fellowship hall to fire and sustained damage to another small building.

The three Gatlinburg churches – Roaring Fork Baptist Church, First Baptist Church and Banner Baptist Church – also report God’s continued work in their midst, including at least four first-time professions of faith in Christ over the past two weeks.
Authorities announced the arrests Dec. 7, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. The teens, whose names and genders have not been released, have been charged with aggravated arson in connection with a fire that started Nov. 23, killing at least 14 people and destroying more than 2,400 homes and businesses.
The suspects’ identities will become public if they are tried as adults, a possibility prosecutor Jimmy Dunn said is “on the table,” according to the News Sentinel.
Roaring Fork pastor Kim McCroskey told Baptist Press (BP) he “hate[s] to think” the suspects could “ruin their whole life by doing something like this.”
“I feel bad for them,” McCroskey said, because “they’re going to have to live with the consequences whether it was a prank or an intentional arson. They could potentially, if they’re tried as adults, be in jail for the rest of their lives.”
At Roaring Fork, demolition of the two destroyed buildings could begin Dec. 9, McCroskey said, noting the total out-of-pocket cost to tear down the charred structures likely will exceed $100,000 and deplete the church’s building fund.
Still, he trusts God to provide the necessary funds to rebuild and said church members want the remains of the old facility gone.
“Getting that rubble gone” will “be a victory for us,” McCroskey said. “It hurts just to look at it.”
One consolation has been seeing four people saved through Roaring Fork’s ministry since the fire, McCroskey said. Two individuals came to Christ through a devotional he presented at a local shelter. One decision came through the church’s Dec. 4 worship service at a local Christian camp facility and the other through the witness of a church member at a shelter.
One of the individuals saved told McCroskey’s wife, “I lost everything I had” in the fire, “but now I have everything I need.”
First Baptist pastor Larry Burcham told BP the congregation is scheduled to hold Sunday worship services in its facility Dec. 11 for the first time since the fire destroyed a building used for youth ministry and as a custodian’s residence among other functions.
Though the main church building sustained no fire damage, Burcham said, cleaning out the soot and smell has taken two weeks.
First Baptist met at a local high school auditorium last Sunday, and it “turned out to be kind of awesome,” with “a lot of the community in attendance,” including first responders, Burcham said.
The arrests lead Burcham to feel “sadness” and “hurt,” he noted.
Banner Baptist, which lost its fellowship hall and sustained damage to two other buildings, also plans to be back in its facility for the first time Dec. 11.
Pastor Pete Lamon told BP a larger concern for him than the church buildings is seven families in the congregation that lost their homes.
“That may sound insignificant,” Lamon said. “But that’s 25 percent of our congregation. That’s where we’re really focusing our time and energy right now.“
While relief organizations are providing the families with immediate necessities, Banner Baptist is attempting to meet “short-term sustainable needs,” Lamon said, which include housing, appliances and furniture.
“We’re trying to develop a list of [items] that we can gather and store and be ready to give these families as they need it,” Lamon said.
Tennessee Baptist Convention disaster relief specialist Wes Jones told BP a combination of approximately 40 local and trained outside volunteers are on site in Gatlinburg, providing services including feeding, property assessments, shower and laundry units and chainsaw-aided cleanup.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

12/12/2016 8:15:35 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Couple equipping ‘insiders’ to reach South Asians

December 12 2016 by Elaine Gaston, IMB

Shanti chose for her wedding attire blue silk trimmed with gold. Rich fabrics in brilliant hues are traditional for wedding saris in this South Asian megacity.

IMB photo
The dirty slums of this South Asian megacity sit in dire contrast to more affluent areas and are the ministry focus of International Mission Board representatives Rodney and Helen Cregg.

But the guest list was anything but typical. Among those celebrating this day were 20 prostitutes – women who were like family to Shanti.
She knew them from the years she shared their heartbreaking lifestyle as a prostitute before the ministry of a Christian activity center rescued her from her former life. Shanti is now a believer, has a decent job to support herself and, with her wedding, is the wife of a Christian man.
International Mission Board representatives Rodney and Helen Cregg, with their four children, sow gospel seeds in a South Asian megacity of 22 million. As part of their work, the Creggs partnered to establish in the middle of the red-light district an activity center that offers prostitutes a place to learn basic skills. Raj Joseph, an area pastor, calls the center “a window through which they can see some light and find hope for themselves.”
Rodney Cregg describes the city as home to some of the largest red-light districts on the entire continent of Asia.
“As you walk into these red-light districts, it’s utter poverty. You walk through mud. You walk past piles of trash. As you walk, these alleys are lined with ladies,” Rodney said. “They sell themselves to men for one or two dollars several times a day. Many of them are sold into prostitution and so when they come [here] they are slaves. They have no freedom. They have no choice in what they can do.”

Reaching a megacity

The red-light district is just one area the Creggs focus on. In an effort to reach the entire city, they’ve created a four-prong approach. One segment of that approach focuses on social justice, while other segments cover business and professionals, people groups, and millennials.

IMB photo
International Mission Board representatives Rodney and Helen Cregg spread the gospel in the slums of this South Asian megacity of 22 million, including members of unreached people groups.

“Over 65 percent of [the country] is 35 years or younger,” Rodney said. “This is a very crucial segment for the future of [this country].”
The Creggs have the privilege of influencing people groups who have not previously heard the gospel.
“We know as the gospel begins to move through the city we’re going to have many unreached people groups and unengaged people groups that we can equip as insiders to go back [to their villages and towns] to reach [others],” Rodney said. “Where in the world do [South Asians] not live? We believe that [this country] is crucial to finishing the task [of evangelism].”
And while the hope is that many people in the city accept Jesus as Savior, it is each individual’s journey that matters.
A woman at the red-light district activities center agrees.
“Being involved at the center, I am finding the love I didn’t get from my family, from people who know the Lord,” she said. “Through Jesus I am experiencing love. I am blessed.”


Pray that Christians engaged in business in this South Asian city would actively engage their workplaces with the gospel.
Pray that women trapped in hopeless lifestyles in the red-light districts of the city would be saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Writer Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in restricted-access countries. She is now based in the U.S. This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 4-11 with the theme of “The Gospel Resounds.” The theme undergirds the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The offering, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $155 million.)

12/12/2016 8:04:46 AM by Elaine Gaston, IMB | with 0 comments

Fairness for all, or a few?

December 9 2016 by J.C. Derrick, WORLD News Service

Presidents of two major evangelical organizations are calling on Christian leaders to consider supporting legislation that would codify rights for LGBT and religious communities in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision last year legalizing same-sex marriage.

Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), and Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), have led the effort, conducting forums with some 200 Christian leaders in nine cities over the past 15 months. Some criticize their plan, known as “Fairness for All,” because it could protect churches and colleges but not other nonprofit religious organizations or Christian-led businesses.
Anderson and Hoogstra speak favorably for this plan, which is based on a 2015 Utah law that amended the state’s anti-discrimination and fair housing acts to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. The legislation included an exemption for religious organizations, and a similar provision on the federal level would cover the constituencies Anderson and Hoogstra represent.
“We have a fiduciary duty to protect the religious freedom of our institutions,” said CCCU spokeswoman Shapri LoMaglio. “We’re doing everything possible to protect the religious liberty of as many individuals and institutions as possible.”
LoMaglio described the series of forums as “educational” sessions designed to solicit input, but attendees told WORLD the events effectively persuaded many to support Fairness for All – at least in principle.
That’s notable because most major conservative advocacy groups and several Christian leaders oppose Utah’s plan, including The Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the Family Research Council, First Liberty Institute, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Princeton University professor Robert P. George, Heritage fellow Ryan T. Anderson, ERLC president Russell Moore, and Colson Center for Christian Worldview president John Stonestreet.
While most dissenters believe Fairness for All is well-intentioned, they object to the lack of protections for religious individuals. Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, said a better title for the concept would be “Fairness for a Few.”
“Sometimes people with good intentions can do a lot of damage to others,” he added. “We’ve seen these bills have unintended consequences that are devastating for people of faith.”
Shackelford cited as an example his clients Aaron and Melissa Klein, Oregon bakers who declined to make a wedding cake for a lesbian customer they had served in other capacities in the past. The state issued a $135,000 fine, forcing them to close their business.
Utah’s law protects businesses with 15 or fewer employees, but the ERLC’s Russell Moore and Andrew Walker noted the arbitrary number could be subject to change or elimination, and a business owner with 17 employees could be forced to violate his or her conscience.
“Legally compelled speech where the government has not sought out a less restrictive means goes against the letter and spirit of our First Amendment,” they wrote. “This is unacceptable.”
LoMaglio stressed that no federal legislation exists yet, so specifics are negotiable. She declined to discuss possible deal-breakers, including whether the CCCU would support a religious exemption that didn’t protect individuals such as the Kleins.
“We’re looking for a comprehensive solution that protects the most people possible that is politically viable,” she said.
The NAE-CCCU forums include details on the Equality Act, an LGBT bill supported by Democrats, and the First Amendment Defense Act, a religious freedom bill supported by Republicans, with Fairness for All presented as a strategic compromise.
Michael Wear, founder of a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm focused on helping Christians navigate public policy issues, has attended several of the forums and praised Anderson and Hoogstra for their “phenomenal” leadership. He said these discussions are critical for securing robust religious freedom in a post-Obergefell context.
“I find it very hard to believe we’re going to go indefinitely into the future without addressing things like employment rights for LGBT persons who are legally allowed to marry,” said Wear, who led evangelical outreach for the Obama administration’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. “These questions are going to be addressed. It’s just a matter of the context in which they will be addressed.”
Many observers thought the Fairness for All push may lose steam in the wake of President-elect Donald Trump’s surprising win earlier this month and his subsequent nomination of Betsy DeVos for education secretary. (DeVos graduated from Calvin College, a CCCU member school, where Hoogstra was an administrator until 2014.)
That doesn’t appear to be the case: Hoogstra and Anderson, who did not respond to requests for comment, have another event scheduled, and advocacy for the plan took place the week after the election at a conference for independent colleges and universities. Some supporters of the plan believe a Republican Congress and White House is the best time to move forward with the proposal – similar to the scenario in conservative Utah.
Supporters cite a California bill that would have gutted freedoms for religious schools earlier this year as a prime reason for moving quickly on federal legislation similar to Fairness for All – also referred to as a sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) law. They believe a federal law with a religious exemption would be a permanent solution to ongoing tensions between LGBT rights and religious freedom.
Greg Baylor, a former CCCU board member who is the leading higher education attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, disagrees. He said there is “grave risk” that any religious exemptions would be removed later: “This is precisely what almost happened earlier this year in California, where the legislature, through Senate Bill 1146, tried to gut the long-standing religious exemption from the state Equity in Higher Education Act’s prohibition on SOGI discrimination.”
Two years ago, LGBT advocates succeeded in repealing the decades-old religious exemption in Washington, D.C.’s Human Rights Act.
Baylor said Christian schools should beware they don’t handcuff their own graduates in pursuit of self-preservation: “Those who support the integration of faith into all areas of life, including the commercial sphere, should be hesitant to support laws that punish people for doing precisely that.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – J.C. Derrick writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine,, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)


12/9/2016 11:19:23 AM by J.C. Derrick, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Holy what? Drop profane TV show title, Council urges

December 9 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The Parents Television Council (PTC) is urging ABC to drop plans to use profanity in the title of a television comedy series featuring a struggling church and its new pastor.
“Holy (expletive),” the title of the series currently in development, is not only offensive and inappropriate, but assumes that advertisers want to link their products to “excrement,” PTC President Tim Winter told Baptist Press (BP).

“You scratch your head and wonder what the folks at the programming department in these networks are thinking, but they certainly have no sense of what the American marketplace is looking for,” Winter said. “When are they going to get it?”
The show is being developed just as a PTC study found that ABC prime time shows had the most uses of profanity and sexualized language voiced by children during the study period of February-May, 2016, when compared to CBS, NBC and Fox.
Winter referenced an earlier ABC series with the same word in its title, “[Expletive] My Dad Says,” – promoted as “$#*! My Dad Says” – which was canceled in the middle of the 2010-2011 broadcast season after 18 episodes.
“What we said at the time was, ‘How many corporate sponsors are going to want to align their corporate brand image with excrement?’ That’s what they’re doing, if they’re going to align their media dollars with a show, they’re bringing their brand alongside that word, and it’s inseparable,” Winter said. “All we had to do was remind them of that. The advertisers pulled out, one at a time and realized, ‘Well we don’t associate with that,’ and the show was cancelled.”
The PTC, in frequent contact with ABC executives, is urging the company to immediately reconsider the profanity in the title of the show and the show’s content, which they say portrays the pastorate poorly.
“When I look back over the years, especially recent years, of Hollywood’s treatment of people of faith broadly, but specifically people of the cloth, it has not been favorable. It is almost entirely unfavorable,” Winter told BP. “If they move forward and try to put a show like this on the air, then we will absolutely do everything we can to make sure that number one, the audiences are aware of it and they stay away, and number two, more importantly to the network, the advertisers, the one who pay the networks for the time on those shows … our hope is that the advertisers will reconsider any association with the show.”
Networks began as early as 2009 developing shows with profanity in the titles, rolling out several such titles which have failed, according to Deadline Hollywood entertainment news.
“These shows routinely fail in terms of popularity and the ratings,” Winter said.
In the PTC study on the use of foul and suggestive language by children, results showed ABC primetime shows included 81 instances of profanity and 42 instances of sexual dialogue in the three-month study period.
“It’s bad enough that children are increasingly exposed to vulgar dialogue on television at all hours of the day. It’s even worse that they’re seeing the vulgarity coming directly from the lips of other children,” Winter said in a PTC press release. “This troubling new trend should concern every family, given the inarguable evidence that children are influenced by what they see on TV.”
Fox, which features a Sunday-night block of animated cartoons, ranked second to ABC in children using profanity and obscene innuendo, the PTC study found.
“Historically such instances of child-delivered vulgarity were few and far between,” Winter said. “The fact that there is a rapid increase is truly troubling for parents and families.”
The PTC is also working to improve the television ratings system, which Winter said does not adequately alert parents to offensive content.
Regarding the use of profanity in the ABC series in development, Winter said, “We’ll see what their next move is.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

12/9/2016 11:14:09 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Hospitals’ religious liberty & the Supreme Court

December 9 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court should prevent the government from making the determination if Protestant and Catholic hospitals qualify as faith-based ministries, religious freedom advocates say.
The high court announced Dec. 2 it would review lower-court rulings in cases involving religious hospitals that are being threatened with losing the ability to participate in church pension plans. Three religious health-care systems in California, Illinois and New Jersey have lost in federal appeals courts, which have ruled the hospitals are ineligible for a church-plan exemption under federal law.
The justices are expected to hear oral arguments in the consolidated case by April and to issue an opinion before they adjourn next summer.
Defenders of the hospitals’ right to participate in tax-exempt church pension plans – including GuideStone Financial Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) health and financial benefits entity – said the high court has the opportunity to restrain the government from meddling in decisions that should belong to churches and religious ministries.
“Religious hospitals do irreplaceable work in thousands of communities every day. They should be supported, not subjected to a court’s ideological test,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“I hope the Supreme Court rules in favor of these hospitals, their employees, and their communities, and rejects this attempt to attack once again religious freedom and human compassion,” Moore said in written comments for Baptist Press (BP).
Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a written statement, “The government shouldn’t attempt to go into the theology business by assuming it has the ability or expertise to decide whether a faith-based ministry is religious enough to be a ministry. Religiously affiliated hospitals were developed and have long been regarded as the very essence of faith-motivated outreach and service to the community and world. To say that they are not ‘religious enough’ to be recognized for what they clearly are makes no sense.”
Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said the lawyers involved in challenging the health-care systems “are like Robin Hood in reverse: stealing from hospitals who serve the poor in order to line their own pockets.”
“What’s worse is that they want the Court to declare that Christian hospital ministries aren’t actually part of the church,” Rassbach said in in a written release. “We hope the Court will reject their crabbed view of Christian charity.”
The three hospitals in the consolidated case – Dignity Health in California, Advocate Healthcare System in Illinois and St. Peter’s Healthcare in New Jersey – provide free clinics for the poor, as well as care and services for the mentally impaired and childhood abuse victims, according to the Becket Fund. They also offer generous pensions to their employees, Becket reported. If the health-care systems lose at the Supreme Court, several hospitals may close, Becket warned.
In addition to the three suits before the high court, nearly 100 other cases are active in lower courts, according to Becket.
GuideStone is not a party in the consolidated case before the high court, and its pension plans will not be affected by the justices’ ruling. GuideStone, however, has signed onto friend-of-the-court briefs with the Supreme Court and other federal courts in support of the hospital systems, said Harold Loftin, the SBC entity’s general counsel.
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) “exempts ‘church plans’ from the technical requirements of the law, which are expensive and which would impose secular requirements on church plans as they operate their retirement plans consistent with their religious convictions,” Loftin told BP in written remarks.
For more than 30 years, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor have interpreted the tax code and ERISA to exempt such ministries as those involved in the current cases, Loftin said.
“The systems created by the religious organizations are an efficient way to provide benefits across the spectrum of church and ministry workers,” he told BP, adding “the more important issue is that for Constitutional reasons, Congress chose to exempt these ministries and the operation of their retirement operations from government entanglement. We hope the Supreme Court will reaffirm this basic proposition and reverse the lower court decisions.”
The consolidated case consists of Advocate Health Care v. Stapleton, St. Peter’s Healthcare v. Kaplan and Dignity Health v. Rollins.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

12/9/2016 11:10:14 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

French abortion bill would outlaw ‘moral’ pressure

December 9 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A bill passed by France’s Senate Dec. 7 that bans websites distributing “false information” about abortion could be used, pro-life activists say, to criminalize legitimate attempts to dissuade women from terminating their pregnancies.
The bill was approved 173-126, according to news reports, and must return to the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, for final approval before advancing to Socialist President Francois Hollande.
The measure would extend to the internet a 1993 law outlawing “interference” with abortions through distribution of falsehood, according to the news website France 24.
Violation of the law would be punishable by two years in prison and a $31,800 fine, CNS News reported.
Among other provisions, the bill would outlaw “trying to prevent” abortions by “disseminating or transmitting” electronic statements “looking to intentionally mislead” regarding the “characteristics or the medical consequences of a voluntary interruption of pregnancy,” according to a translation posted by the conservative publication National Review.
When conservatives objected to the bill’s original text, it was amended to outlaw “misinformation,” suggesting accurate pro-life activism may still be permitted, the National Review stated.
Yet Grégor Puppinck of the European Centre for Law and Justice said misinformation is not all the bill bans. Its accompanying vague ban of “moral and psychological pressures” may “prohibit the church from publishing its position on abortion,” he said.
“Publishing the Christian teaching that abortion is a crime could be seen as putting pressure on people,” Puppinck said according to the Washington Free Beacon. “The simple sharing of information that might upset moral conscience could be sufficient to constitute a crime.”
Puppinck added, “If you teach that [abortion] is a sin, [that] teaching itself” might be “sufficient for prosecution.“
The law is aimed at least in part, according to CNS News, at the pro-life website, which comes up in internet searches for “IVG“, the French acronym for “voluntary interruption of pregnancy.” asserts that abortion carries medical and psychological risks.
The government website on abortion,, uses the slogan, “Abortion, your right,” and mentions no risks associated with the procedure, World News Service reported previously. See related report.
Lawmakers clashed in debate leading up to the Senate’s vote, France 24 reported.
Socialist Family Minister Laurence Rossignol said “freedom of expression should not be confused with manipulating minds,” adding, “Thirty years ago militants chained themselves to abortion clinics ... today their successors are continuing this fight on the web.”
Bruno Retailleau of the more conservative Les Républicains party said the bill is “totally against freedom of expression” while Health Minister Marisol Touraine, arguing in support of the bill, denounced a “cultural climate that tends to make women feel guilty” for seeking abortions.
A final vote on the measure in the National Assembly is expected in the coming weeks.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

12/9/2016 11:07:02 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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