December 2016

Charitable giving up from previous year, ECFA finds

December 7 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Charitable donations to a diversity of Christian organizations including churches, schools and advocacy groups increased in 2015 over the previous year, according to the latest statistics released by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).
 
The 12.5 billion given in 2015 was 2.2 percent greater than 2014’s giving of $12.2 billion, ECFA said, based on official audits and other financial statements of 1,816 of the more than 2,100 non-profit members accredited by the ECFA, including many Southern Baptists.
 
“Both new and long-standing donors are continuing to give faithfully to support the important work of our member organizations,” ECFA president and CEO Dan Busby said in a press release. “It is encouraging to see generosity in action.”
 
While the study was based on financial data only from groups accredited by the Winchester, Va., based organization, Busby said the findings are supported by studies from others.
 
“The 2.2 percent increase reported in ECFA’s State of Giving compares closely to the 2.7 percent increase in giving to religious groups recently reported by Giving USA,” Busby told Baptist Press. “Additionally, similarly to what has been reported by Christian and secular organizations, ECFA found that giving to donor advised funds was up 25 percent.”
 
The Giving USA Foundation annual study, Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy, estimates giving to all charitable groups in the United States. The study calculates total giving by about 53 million households, 16 million corporations, over a million estates, and some 82,000 foundations, according to the website of the Giving USA philanthropic study group.
 
A stronger economy is the “biggest driver of increases in charitable giving,” Busby said.
 
The most significant increases in cash donations, ECFA found, occurred in the categories of short-term missions, 25.2 percent; camps and conferences, 21.2 percent; drug and alcohol-related outreaches, 13.1 percent; orphan care, 12.4 percent; community development, 11.7 percent; and prison-related outreaches, 11.7 percent. However the study results, available at ecfa.org/Content/2016-State-of-Giving, does not include specific dollar amounts in each category of giving.
 
Among Southern Baptist groups included in the ECFA study are the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Colorado Baptist General Convention, the Louisiana Baptist Foundation, the Tennessee Baptist Foundation, and the Missouri Baptist Foundation, First Baptist Church of Orlando, Fla., and Providence Baptist Church of Raleigh, N.C.
 
Among ECFA’s nearly 100 charter members are Compassion International, Cru, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago and Wycliffe Bible Translators.
 
While the EFCA study focuses on cash donations, the study also found an increase in non-cash giving of 7.5 percent based on gifts valued at a total of $3.5 billion in 2015.
 
Founded in 1979, ECFA describes itself as providing accreditation to “leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with the ECFA standards pertaining to financial accountability, fundraising and board governance.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

12/7/2016 9:35:47 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Friendly Avenue pastor, Pat Cronin, dies

December 6 2016 by BR staff

Patrick “Pastor Pat” Michael Cronin died Dec. 4 after a massive heart attack while driving he and his wife home from the airport.
 
Cronin has been the pastor at Friendly Avenue Baptist Church in Greensboro for more than 20 years. He and his wife, Brenda, had just arrived in town after a trip and were driving home when Cronin had a heart attack at the wheel of the car and drove off the road. She was able to grab the steering wheel and was not injured.

 
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Thurs., Dec. 8 at Friendly Avenue Baptist Church. The family will receive friends from 4-8 p.m. on Wed., Dec. 7 at the church.
 
“He’s been a real good friend,” said Rob Miller, Friendly Avenue’s minister of music and worship, in an interview with Fox 8 Greensboro. “I've lost a good friend and our church is obviously hurting right now, but what we find is that the Lord has given us strength to get through it, and we feel like we will.”
 
The church’s Wednesday activities are cancelled except for the visitation, and the church is planning a combined service Dec. 11. The church also plans to continue a ministry this weekend encouraged by Cronin – the living Christmas tree.
 
It was Cronin’s idea to move the Christmas tree made up of the church choir to Four Seasons Town Centre. The tree has been hosted at the church for 14 years. Miller was at the mall in the early morning hours Sunday setting up the tree when he and their crew received news about the pastor’s death.
 
“Our goal is to share the love of Christ to people at the mall while they are shopping, and we think we can do that better through song than any other way," Miller said. "It was his idea to come here. For us to not to, it in a sense it would be to dishonor him."
 
Performances will be Dec. 9-11. Friday’s shows begin at 6:30, 7:15 and 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday’s shows begin at 3, 3:45 and 4:30 p.m. Shows will run every 45 minutes and last 25 minutes.

A New York native, Cronin apprenticed as an iron worker before being called to ministry. 
 
Cronin earned bachelor’s degrees in biblical education and religion at Florida Bible College and Palm Beach Atlantic University. He received a master’s of divinity degree in pastoral studies from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a doctor of ministry in pastoral leadership from Denver Seminary.

Cronin was ordained in 1979 at Sheridan Hills Baptist Church, Hollywood, Fla., where he served as minister of youth. He pastored Gardens Baptist Church, Hollywood, Fla., Sunnyside Baptist Church, Shepherdsville, Ky., First Baptist Deerfield Beach, Deerfield Beach, Fla., and Friendly Avenue Baptist Church, Greensboro, since 1995.

He is survived by his wife, Brenda, and his children Ryan Patrick (Daren) Cronin, Timothy Brenin Cronin and Erin Elizabeth Cronin; two grandsons; four brothers, Thomas Cronin of Mineola, N.Y., Michael Cronin of Malverne, N.Y., Peter Cronin of Boca Raton, Fla., and Sean Cronin of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; and two sisters, Peggy Hannan of Malverne, N.Y., and Marian Cronin, Lynbrook, N.Y.
 
Memorials to the Friendly Avenue Baptist Church Building Fund, 4800 W. Friendly Ave., Greensboro, NC 27410.

12/6/2016 4:00:54 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments



Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast referred for prosecution

December 6 2016 by Evan Wilt, WORLD News Service

The House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives referred Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast for criminal prosecution to the Texas attorney general Dec. 1 over allegations it sold aborted babies’ body parts.
 
“There is so much that we the American people didn’t understand and still don’t understand about this industry,” said Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, on the House floor. “However, since then, the panel’s investigation has uncovered alarming revelations about the fetal tissue industry.”
 
The House panel accused the Houston Planned Parenthood affiliate of engaging in illegal sale of fetal tissue to the University of Texas and encouraged the attorney general to open a criminal investigation. The referral is one of multiple violations from abortion providers and businesses involved in fetal tissue commerce uncovered by the select panel.
 
Current law allows for the voluntary transfer of tissue with consent, but profiting from human fetal tissue sales is a felony punishable up to 10 years in prison. Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast is just one of the entities the panel suspects of wrongdoing.
 
“Over the last year, we have held hearings that explored the bioethics surrounding fetal tissue use, and that revealed the sobering reality of how some bad actors seek to profit from the sale of fetal tissue in violation of federal law,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., chairwoman of the panel.
 
The 14-member panel formed in October 2015 in response to undercover videos by the Center for Medical Progress showing the apparent grim nature of the fetal procurement industry.
 
In the last year, the panel reportedly found evidence of StemExpress, a tissue procurement company that does business with Planned Parenthood, profiting as much as 400 percent for each sale of fetal tissue. On the company’s website, researchers could purchase individual aborted body parts at whatever gestational period they wanted. StemExpress also employed “tissue-technicians,” paid an hourly wage with a commission per sale, to stake out abortion centers – matching online orders with scheduled abortions for the day.
 
In September, the panel voted to hold StemExpress in criminal contempt for not complying with multiple requests for complete accounting records.
 
In addition, the panel found Planned Parenthood used misleading consent forms which stated fetal tissue “has been used to treat and cure” Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and AIDS.
 
The six Democrats on the panel walked out of the last committee meeting in September, refusing to participate in what they called a “witch hunt” against abortion providers and researchers.
 
After heated debate Dec. 1, the House voted 234-181 to allocate an additional $800,000 to aid the panel in its investigation.
 
Democrats argued the panel’s work was having a chilling effect on research to find cures for illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes. Republicans disagreed and detailed the violations of Planned Parenthood and StemExpress as examples for why the panel needed more funding.
 
“The Select Panel’s investigation has been worth every dime of money it has spent pursuing the truth,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue. “It has caused the breakup of several illegal aborted baby-tissue trafficking schemes and launched investigations around the country.”
 
The House Energy and Commerce Committee commissioned the panel to submit a final report on the investigation due at the end of the year.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evan Wilt writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)
 

12/6/2016 11:33:43 AM by Evan Wilt, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



Gatlinburg fire: DR volunteers urged to be patient

December 6 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC), the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) and Southern Baptists serving in local government are among those providing aid in the wake of wildfires that killed at least 14 people in and around Gatlinburg on Nov. 28.

Baptist and Reflector photo
Kim McCroskey, right, pastor of Roaring Forks Baptist Church in Gatlinburg, Tenn., describes the destruction of the church’s facility to Joe Sorah of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board staff. In the background is Wes Jones, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief specialist.


But TBC disaster relief officials are urging those wishing to volunteer to be patient.
 
TBC executive director Randy Davis wrote in a Dec. 1 open letter to Tennessee Baptists that “Tennessee Baptist Mission Board missionaries were able to get to the sites of three of our Tennessee Baptist churches, ministering to pastors while their destroyed buildings still smoldered.”
 
Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief (DR) leaders have presented checks for short-term relief to two Gatlinburg congregations whose buildings sustained major damage: Roaring Fork Baptist Church and First Baptist Church, the Baptist and Reflector newsjournal reported. A third congregation that sustained major damage to its facilities, Banner Baptist Church, also was slated to receive funds.
 
The largest newspapers in both Knoxville and Nashville published a report Dec. 4 on Roaring Fork’s first worship service after fire destroyed both of its buildings.
 
Roaring Fork Pastor Kim McCroskey told church members assembled at a local Baptist camp facility, “We’re God’s church. Fire couldn’t take that away. Fire can’t take our resolve away. I’m weak in the knees and overwhelmed with grief about what’s happened, but I’m also overwhelmed with joy about seeing all of you here today,” Knoxville’s News Sentinel and Nashville’s Tennessean reported.
 

Eager to help

Although media reports indicate some 1,684 structures have been damaged or destroyed by the fires and at least 134 people have been injured, TBC DR officials are urging those wishing to volunteer to be patient.
 
“We know there are people eager to come” to Gatlinburg to help, TBC disaster relief specialist Wes Jones told the Baptist and Reflector. “But until residents are allowed to return to their homes and damages are assessed, there is little that can be done.”
 
A separate Baptist and Reflector article listed “wait” among the best ways Baptists can help fire victims.
 
“Yes wait,” the Baptist and Reflector stated. “A needs assessment can’t be done until after first responders have cleared the area. It takes several days to identify and prioritize how best to use available volunteers. Help arriving too early often can’t be administered.”
 
Other avenues to provide help include prayer and participation in DR training events. Volunteers will be needed in fire-stricken areas for months, the Baptist and Reflector reported.
 
When it comes to giving, Davis reported more than $20,000 in special gifts to Tennessee Baptist DR efforts between Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
 
Another source of relief money is National WMU and the WMU Foundation, whose HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow) Fund awarded a $5,000 grant to help meet immediate physical needs of local residents who lost their homes.
 
The grant will be administered through the local Sevier County Associational WMU and Smoky Mountain Resort Ministries, according to a WMU news release.
 
“Many have been affected by the horrific fires with the loss of their homes and some with their life,” National WMU President Linda Cooper said. “This touches our heart. We at WMU are thankful to help through our HEART Fund and our prayers. May He magnify our efforts as we attempt to minister to those affected.”
 
Among local Southern Baptists serving in government leadership are Pigeon Forge, Tenn., mayor David Wear, a member of First Baptist Church in Sevierville, Tenn.; Gatlinburg city manager Cindy Ogle, a member of First Baptist Gatlinburg; and Gatlinburg mayor Mike Werner, also a First Baptist Gatlinburg member.
 
“If you really want to do something for Gatlinburg,” Werner said during a Nov. 30 press conference, “come back and visit us.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

12/6/2016 11:26:32 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Paige Patterson addresses Calvinism at SWBTS

December 6 2016 by Baptist Press & SWBTS staff

Paige Patterson stated his personal views on Calvinism in a blog post in light of a chapel speaker's critique of the doctrinal system and “rude behavior [in response] on the part of a few students.”


The speaker, Rick Patrick, pastor of First Baptist Church in Sylacauga, Ala., spoke about salvation in Christ at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in a Nov. 18 message titled “The greatest thing that ever happened to me.”
 
Patrick, a 1993 Southwestern master of divinity graduate, spoke of his salvation in Christ from a family suffering from alcoholism and divorce, then spent the remainder of his 38-minute message describing the Connect 316 organization and its various resources that openly oppose Calvinism.
 
He and other traditional Southern Baptists are troubled as parts of the convention “increasingly embrace the Presbyterian view of salvation doctrine, church government, the mode of baptism, avoidance of the altar call, the use beverage alcohol, the approval of societal missions funding and so on.”
 
Patrick urged the chapel audience to study whether “these Reform practices are making these things better or worse.”
 
Patterson, in a Dec. 2 blog at the seminary's Theological Matters website, stated that Patrick presented his views on Calvinism “as would be expected at a Southern Baptist seminary in view of the current discussions in our denomination.” Patterson said he responded to students “who had not agreed with the speaker and had stood up during the message and walked out to show their displeasure.”
 
Patterson then set forth a number of facets of his view of Calvinism. In the blog post, he noted that “Baptists have historically been divided into two camps (at least) – namely, Calvinist and non-Calvinist. I do not anticipate that this will change. ...
 
“[A]s long as the heart is hot for the winning of men and women to Christ, as long as the passionate evangelism exhibited in the New Testament is the major commitment, as long as the Calvinism on display is like that of [famed 19th-century Baptist preacher Charles Haddon] Spurgeon, who even wrote a book specifically on soul-winning, I am content – no, I am elated to work with these brethren for the cause of Christ,” Patterson said.
 
Patrick, in a statement to Baptist Press, said in part, “I made every effort to speak of issues and not personalities. While I make no apology for my doctrine, holding it firmly, I sincerely desire interpersonal reconciliation with any listener who might have been offended. The SBC is indeed stronger with two healthy wings, and I affirm both the right of Calvinists to share their beliefs and practices contrary to mine, as well as my right to share my beliefs and practices contrary to theirs.”
 

12/6/2016 11:19:45 AM by Baptist Press & SWBTS staff | with 0 comments



VA backpedals on gender reassignment surgery

December 6 2016 by Gaye Clark, WORLD News Service

Citing a lack of funding, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has backpedaled on a proposed rule change that would have covered sex-change surgeries for transgender veterans. But the agency pledged in a statement to “continue to explore regulatory change in the medical benefits package when appropriate funding is available.”
 
Transgender advocates vowed not to abandon efforts to get the expensive surgeries covered.
 
“Even though they are changing their minds right now, there’s going to be a way and we’re going to find that way. … We’re not going to be set back,” Leila Ireland, a transgender soldier who served in the Army as a man and was medically retired last year, told Military.com.
 
The proposed regulation changes are due out Dec. 5 and would have included gender reassignment surgery, but the VA did not have a plan for funding the procedures, a requirement President Barack Obama signed as an executive order in 2011.
 
That same year, the VA mandated standardized care for transgender veterans to include hormone therapy, mental healthcare, preoperative evaluation and long-term care after a sex reassignment surgery for qualified veterans. But the department stopped short of covering sex-reassignment surgery, deeming it something for “strictly cosmetic purposes.”
 
In June, the Department of Defense lifted its ban on transgender people serving in the military. From 2006 to 2013, the VA identified 2,662 diagnoses related to transgender status, with the number of transgender veterans rising since 2008. Since the 2011 directive, transgender cases have increased substantially, according to a paper by VA officials published in the American Journal of Public Health.
 
The VA originally announced its plan to lift the longstanding ban on gender reassignment surgery in May.
 
“Increased understanding of both gender dysphoria and surgical techniques in this area have improved significantly, and surgical procedures are now widely accepted in the medical community as medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria,” the statement read.
 
But not every veteran advocate sees the effort to fund gender reassignment surgery as good news for veterans.
 
“In case you have been in a drug-induced coma for the past two years, VA has a well-known problem getting veterans in for major procedures in a timely manner. … I have no idea why anyone would allow VA to train residents on gender reassignment. It’d be a death wish,” wrote Benjamin Krause, a lawyer and author of the guide Voc Rehab Survival Guide for Veterans.
 
Six Democratic lawmakers called on the VA to expedite the coverage of sex reassignment surgeries and remove “the outdated restriction that prohibits VA from providing medical services to treat gender dysphoria.”
 
But 30 Republican lawmakers also wrote to Secretary Robert McDonald stating the VA should focus on improving service-related medical care.
 
“Many veterans struggle to receive appropriate and timely treatment for service-connected conditions, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), due to significant backlogs and inadequate access within the VA’s healthcare system,” the letter read. “We do not believe the VA should be discussing the potential coverage of gender alteration surgeries as the agency faces challenges in delivering healthcare to those veterans whose service directly resulted in their need for medical treatments.”
 
Responding to concerns about costs, LGBT activists touted a study that states about 687 veterans would seek the gender reassignment surgery at a cost of $20.6 million a year. VA’s budget for 2017 is $176.9 billion.
 
But the study does not consider the training and facility changes needed at VA hospitals to perform such surgeries. If the surgery gains widespread acceptance, the estimated number seeking the procedure likely would increase as well. And not everyone sees the surgery as compassionate care.
 
“Real compassion for those struggling with a gender identity disorder is to offer mental health treatments that help men and women become comfortable with their actual biological sex – not to advocate for costly and controversial surgeries subsidized by taxpayers,” Leanna Baumer, a senior legislative assistant with the Family Research Council, told The Washington Post.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Gaye Clark writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)
 

12/6/2016 11:00:07 AM by Gaye Clark, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments



New relationships in ancient Verona

December 6 2016 by Elaine Gaston, Baptist Press

In the ancient Italian city of Verona, Nick and Shannan Copland use modern tools to shape new relationships and share timeless biblical truths.

IMB photo
International Mission Board, IMB, worker Nick Copland, left, uses shared interests to build relationships that open doors to share the Gospel in Verona, Italy.


The International Mission Board workers appear to be naturals – in any language – when it comes to making friends. Nick, 32, and 28-year-old Shannan use their interests in good food and outdoor pursuits to connect with individuals there.
 
The Coplands started three online groups with different emphases and advertised them through Facebook, Meetup.com and Couchsurfing.com. For example, through Appertivo Italiano Verona, Nick and Shannan advertise get-togethers at local restaurants to enjoy menu tastings. On designated evenings, they meet with group members who have signed up, usually eight to 12 people, to dine, get to know one another and share their stories.
 
The couple is believed to be among the first Southern Baptists to work in northeast Italy and is supported through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
 

Spiritual challenge

Verona has all the trappings of a wealthy European city, but is spiritually impoverished. Like other postmodern Italian cities, Catholicism’s tight grip through the centuries has slipped in recent years. Younger generations believe the organized church has little relevance. While Catholic traditions such as infant baptism are deeply embedded in the culture, a genuine relationship with Christ is almost unheard of. Catholic churches here still hold mass mostly for older Veronese, Shannan said. But other church buildings serve as museums or have been remodeled into pizzerias, restaurants or banks.

IMB photo
Shannan Copland (2nd from left) discusses biblical truths with newfound friends in her home in Verona, Italy, where she and husband Nick spread the gospel for IMB.


In Verona, relationship building is key to finding natural ways to share the gospel. That’s where the Coplands’ social networking sites have helped, offering neutral ground on which to meet people who share similar interests.
 
“Our smallest group for the longest time was Mountain LIFE Verona,” Nick said. The group was created to attract people who enjoy hiking, rock climbing and other outdoor activities in the city near the Italian Alps, Lake Garda and numerous other hiking areas. In February, the Coplands “selected a [particular] hike and it kind of went viral around Verona and 2,300 people clicked that they were interested in the event,” Nick said, laughing. “On the actual day of the event, 130 showed up.”
 
The Mountain LIFE group offers an excellent avenue to meet new people, Shannan said.
 
“When there’s a smaller group it’s perfect because when you’re hiking for a few hours all you have is conversation with people to get to know them and for them to get to know you,” she said. “Those are the best introductions.”
 
Nick said he and Shannan are “known as the people who bring people together. We’re very community-oriented. We’re here for the people.“
 

Pray

Pray for Nick and Shannan as they continue to build relationships and share their lives in Verona.
 
Pray they will have wisdom to know where best to focus their energy and efforts as they balance several ministry initiatives.
 
Pray for the couple’s marriage in the midst of ministry. In April the Coplands became parents for the first time when they had a baby girl, Evi.
 





(EDITOR’S NOTE – Writer Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in restricted-access countries. She is now based in the U.S.)
 

12/6/2016 10:35:35 AM by Elaine Gaston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Foster care reform could defund Baptist Children’s Homes

December 5 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

The Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH) is at the center of a congressional debate about foster care reform that would almost entirely defund congregate care facilities for children that have been removed from unfit homes.
 
The Family First Prevention Services Act of 2016 limits federal funding to group homes in order to redirect those dollars 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.” It is currently under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee.
 
BCH President Michael Blackwell said in an email to the Biblical Recorder, “[The bill] would have a devastating impact on Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina as well as other such homes in our state and across the nation. We have not sought attention for our pro-active efforts on behalf of children and families. But, we ‘stand tall and steadfast’ in asking our fellow Baptists (as well as a host of other concerned citizens) to continue praying that [Family First] can be amended to lift the restrictions on compassionate residential/congregate organizations such as ours.
 
“There may be some benefits to children and families through [Family First], but any legislation that prohibits all options being available for the well-being of a child is not the solution.”

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr and Rep. Virginia Foxx took action after BCH urged lawmakers for months to support congregate care organizations by opposing the legislation. Foxx objected to a House Rules Committee effort to include the measure in a medical research and innovation bill called the 21st Century Cures Act.
 
“I hope the committees will look at this issue in the future and look to support the really fine programs out there taking care of children who’ve been physically, sexually and mentally abused,” Foxx said, according to news reports. “I am well aware of the work these facilities do. I did a lot of volunteer work with one of them. I know how hard they work to get foster homes established.”
 
The Huffington Post reported Dec. 2 that Burr urged fellow Senate Republicans to support striking the group care defunding provisions of Family First. Bill sponsors also received a letter from Burr and others that said, “[We] have heard from foster care advocates within our states who believe the changes within [the bill] could substantially disrupt the provision of care for vulnerable foster youth, and in many cases lead to the closure of foster care homes across our states.”
 
Critics 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,” citing government reimbursement numbers around $4,500 per month per child. The article also described congregate care as “warehousing neglected children.”
 
BCH President Michael Blackwell said the organization provides excellent support for foster children and the scrutinized government funds aren’t as exorbitant as they seem.
 
“When the Council on Accreditation (COA) [an independent human service accrediting organization] last reviewed us with the thoroughness of a head-to-toe exam, 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 (which would be in severe jeopardy if [Family First] passes) 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 that serve 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.
 
Related stories:
Proposed bill limits referrals to Baptist Children’s Homes
 

12/5/2016 9:37:04 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments



Amendment loss disappoints religious liberty advocates

December 5 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Religious freedom advocates have expressed deep disappointment about congressional leaders’ failure to protect the rights of faith-based organizations in a national defense bill.
 
The reaction came after it was revealed Nov. 29 the Russell Amendment would not be included in the final version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which designates nearly $620 billion in spending for the armed services. The Russell Amendment – sponsored by Southern Baptist Congressman Steve Russell of Oklahoma – would have protected the rights of non-profit religious contractors to maintain hiring practices in keeping with their beliefs.
 
The House of Representatives passed the NDAA with the Russell Amendment included, but a conference committee of legislators named to work out the differences between the versions approved by the congressional chambers failed to keep it in the final report.
 
Liberal politicians labeled the amendment as discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Senate Democrats threatened to filibuster the bill if it retained the provision, and President Obama warned he would veto it. The measure is the latest battleground in the ongoing conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty.
 
Southern Baptist religious freedom leader Russell Moore described the removal of the Russell Amendment as “a moral and political tragedy.”
 
“Faith-based organizations that meet the needs of people in crisis deserve to be protected and promoted, not leveraged in culture war,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Conscience freedom and compassion are not enemies.
 
“I hope that religious charitable organizations will be free to serve according to their beliefs, not subjected to an ideological test that harms many who are waiting for aid,” Moore told Baptist Press in written comments Dec. 2.
 
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty charged the Senate’s Republican leaders with caving in to pressure from Democrats and the White House.
 
“Americans are fed up with Washington bureaucrats,” said Kristina Arriaga, the Becket Fund’s executive director, Dec. 1. “The leadership of the [next] Congress must double down against, not concede to, ridiculous, fact-free accusations meant to derail legitimate lawmaking.”
 
Foes of the Russell Amendment, however, applauded the news. “We successfully defeated the discriminatory Russell amendment & we are ready to keep on the fight,” the American Civil Liberties Union national office tweeted.
 
The religious freedom protections for faith-based contractors may gain new life in a new presidential administration.
 
Russell agreed to the removal of his amendment from the final version after his office “received assurances from senior Trump officials that this will be addressed by the new administration,” said spokesman Daniel Susskind Nov. 30, according to Bloomberg BNA. “Since this ambiguity was created with an executive order, it can be remedied in that fashion as well.”
 
President-elect Donald Trump will be sworn in Jan. 20.
 
Obama issued an executive order in 2014 that barred federal contractors from discriminating in their hiring and firing practices on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
 
It included an exemption for religious non-profits, but the ambiguous nature of the language caused problems for some faith-based contractors, said University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock in a Nov. 17 article for The Hill. The Russell Amendment was an attempt to clarify the language and apply to Defense contractors protections provided in another federal law, Laycock said.
 
Ron Crews, executive director of Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, said in a written statement, “Several organizations that have provided significant services to the military have been told that they no longer qualify as vendors because of the president’s executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity. These vendors will serve without discriminating against anyone, so they shouldn’t be discriminated against by the government.”
 
Among those served by Christian and other religious non-profits via contracts with the Department of Defense – according to supporters of the Russell Amendment – are service members in war zones, human trafficking victims, refugees, homeless veterans and military families.
 
“Now, because Congress ducked this important issue, more service providers will be unable to continue offering their critical services, services that are sometimes only offered by religious groups,” Arriaga said in a written release. “It is the refugees, homeless, trafficking victims, veterans, and other vulnerable populations who will suffer the most from Congress’s choice to prioritize political expediency over principled governance.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 
12/5/2016 9:36:54 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Imprisonment under Castro recalled by missionary

December 5 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

As the world reflects on the legacy of late Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, a former Southern Baptist missionary imprisoned by the Castro regime in the 1960s is remembering what Castro could not do: kill the church.

SBHLA photo
After returning to the U.S. following HMB missionary David Fite’s Cuban imprisonment, his family visited the 1969 Woman’s Missionary Union annual meeting.


David Fite, 82, was arrested in Havana in 1965 on what he calls fabricated charges of “trafficking in foreign currency” and “ideological diversionism.” Then a Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) missionary and the father of three young boys, including a one-month-old, Fite was incarcerated for three and a half years before being released in Nov. 1968.
 
Fite’s wife Margaret, whose father and fellow missionary Herbert Caudill was jailed along with Fite, told Baptist Press (BP) the missionaries’ arrest seemed to stem from their Christian faith and not their American citizenship, since 53 Cuban believers were taken into custody on the same night.
 
“What [the Cuban regime] wanted to do was to kill the Baptist churches,” Margaret Fite said. “... There was no international problem at all. It was just an attack on religion.”
 
But as David Fite noted, “It didn’t work.”
 
All the believers imprisoned with Fite were ministers, and many had been pastoring churches. Still, the Sunday following the arrests, “not one single church failed to have its worship service,” Margaret Fite said. “And in every church someone got up in that pulpit.”
 
The gospel, David Fite said, “is not limited by political organizations. It moves ahead with a message that is beyond any oppression.”

SBHLA photo
In Feb. 1969, Herbert and Marjorie Caudill (left) and David and Margaret Fite deplaned a Mexican government airliner en route back to the U.S. following David’s three-year Cuban imprisonment.


Yet the imprisonment was discouraging. At times, there were 300 men in a cell, with bunks stacked five high and executions of political dissidents audible outside, David Fite said. Margaret and the children were allowed to visit about once a month, though always in the presence of a guard and at times with English prohibited.
 
“It wasn’t exactly Holiday Inn accommodations,” David Fite said, “but we survived.”
 
Early in the imprisonment, Fite recalled, there was a unique moment of spiritual encouragement.
 
Because all prisoners were placed in solitary confinement immediately following the night of mass Christian detentions, Fite didn’t know whether any other believers were present.
 
“Then during the evening, I heard somebody singing” the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers,” Fite said. One by one, other prisoners joined in the singing, “and before long I realized I was not alone in the arrest.”
 
Another difficulty of the imprisonment concerned Caudill’s sight, which had failed in one eye prior to the arrest and began to fail in the other while he was in jail.
 
When local doctors couldn’t help, Caudill, then 63, was granted conditional release from prison in Nov. 1966, though he remained under house arrest. In March 1967, an American ophthalmologist was permitted to enter Cuba and operate on Caudill, BP reported. The surgery was successful in saving his vision in one eye.
 
Fite remained in prison two years after Caudill’s release despite a visit to Cuba by his parents in 1967 that included multiple conversations with government officials. In reporting the parental visit, BP said Fite had suffered from a hernia, jaundice and an ear infection while in prison.
 
The day Fite was released, he surprised his family by taking a public bus home, BP reported. The Fites and Caudills returned to the U.S. in Feb. 1969.
 
Originally, Fite had been sentenced to six years in prison and Caudill to 10, BP reported.

File photo by Morris Abernathy
David Fite served nearly 30 years following his return from Cuba as a professor and administrator at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


In 1999, the Fites retired to the Atlanta area after David’s service for nearly three decades at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as a professor and extension center administrator.
 
Caudill, who served 40 years as a missionary in Cuba, died in 1987 at age 84.
 
Even with Castro’s death, Margaret Fite said she doesn’t “know how much will change” in Cuba in terms of personal liberty and economic flourishing.
 
“I just know that I lived in Cuba” before the communist revolution, she said, “and it was a joy to live there. And then I lived through the process of [Castro’s] taking over and things got worse and worse and worse.
 
“The interesting thing,” Margaret Fite said, “is that as things grew worse, people needed the gospel more than ever. They needed a God to worship, and that was their mainstay. That’s why the church has grown so much.”
 
The missions magazine Mission Frontiers reported in 2011 as many as 4,500 evangelical churches in Cuba in addition to 10,000 “house groups” from a total of 54 denominations.
 
“For 20 years,” according to Mission Frontiers, “Protestant churches in Communist Cuba have been multiplying at an unprecedented rate.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

12/5/2016 9:36:33 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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