December 2017

Hope for the forgotten refugee

December 8 2017 by IMB staff

Six years ago, one of Seth Peyton’s* good friends paid a high price to escape the violence and famine of his home country.

IMB Photo
Many North African refugees have left their home countries at great personal risk in order to escape violence and starvation, only to find that the life that awaits them in Europe and other countries is much more difficult than they had hoped.

Like hundreds of other North African refugees, he gave his savings to a smuggler who packed him into a standing-room-only truck for a long, miserable trip across the Sahara Desert followed by a dangerous boat ride across the Mediterranean Sea.
Many don’t make it – their bodies wash up on the shore of Europe’s coast. But Seth’s friend said he wasn’t sure the fate he found in surviving was better.
“After living here for six years, he recently went back home,” said Seth, an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary who works with refugees in Europe. “Refugees tell us over and over that this is not what the trafficker told them that Europe was going to be like, that it’s horrible, that there is nothing for them here.”
Even though Seth’s friend had sacrificed so much to escape the reality of his home country, he went back. “He said people back there need to hear this so they do not risk their life to come up here,” Seth said.
In Europe, where Seth and his family live and serve, North African refugees often end up in government housing. They are piled as many as 15 to an apartment, and because of the type of visa they’re given, they can’t find work.
“They have nothing to do all day except go out and scrounge for food,” Seth said. “It’s very lonely, very sad, and very hopeless. They feel forgotten.” That’s why he and other IMB missionaries across the region spend their lives trying to meet those “forgotten” refugees with the hope of the gospel.
“The church has a tremendous opportunity to engage these people, to pray over them, love them, and share with them the hope that we have,” Seth said. “We pray that through this time God will open their hearts and draw them into His kingdom through the hope that He offers.”
And God is answering those prayers, he said. Hundreds of refugees from closed countries in Africa and the Middle East are coming to Christ across Europe. “There are great things happening in the midst of a heartbreaking situation,” Seth said.
But, he conceded, their overwhelming heartache is still hard to watch.
“We recently had a group of refugees over for dinner in our home,” Seth said. “One of the men revealed, ‘I’ve been here eight years, I have no family, I have no job, I have nothing to do here, I have no hope. But tonight you guys have given me some joy in my life.’”
*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 3-10. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, 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 $160 million.)

12/8/2017 8:10:00 AM by IMB staff | with 0 comments

DR’s Mickey Caison retires from SBC’s ‘greatest job’

December 8 2017 by Tobin Perry, NAMB

Think back among the most harrowing disasters in recent U.S. history: 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Midwest floods of 1993, the Northridge earthquake and Hurricanes Andrew, Harvey and Irma.

Photo by John Swain, NAMB
Mickey Caison, right, surveys portable food containers, called cambros, with North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in May 2011 following a devastating outbreak of tornadoes.

Mickey Caison has represented Southern Baptists at each of them.
As national director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) for most of the past 23 years, Caison has led Baptist volunteers to share the love of Christ during difficult days across the country as well as abroad.
“I had the greatest job in [Southern Baptist Convention] life,” Caison said. “I fell in love with seeing God work in people’s lives. I couldn’t get away from it. I wanted to be there. It’s so powerful to watch.”
Caison officially retired from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) at the end of August, but he is currently in Houston, still serving as part of the Southern Baptist response to Hurricane Harvey. Caison was the last remaining staff member to transition from the former Brotherhood Commission to NAMB when the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity was formed in 1997.
Caison can see roots that led him to SBDR all the way back to his childhood. He remembers as a 5-year-old watching his father’s grocery store burn down. As a 12-year-old, he went with his brother-in-law, a police officer, to a wreck where three people were killed and two others were trapped in the car. A few years later, his best friend was killed riding a bicycle in front of his father’s business.
“I saw tragedies; I saw horror; I saw grief. As a child, even the deaths of my grandmothers played into that,” Caison said. “As I put all of those things together, I realized God implanted in me a desire ... to never be in a position where I couldn’t help other people.”
When disaster relief came along, “it was only a natural fit,” providing a unique context for sharing Jesus Christ. “He’s ultimately the greatest hope, the only hope we have.”
Caison, then a South Carolina pastor, first became aware of SBDR while attending the 1986 Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta and going through a mobile Disaster Relief unit set up by Alabama Baptists.
But it wasn’t until three years later that Caison saw firsthand the impact Southern Baptists have in disaster situations. He had been working with local emergency services when Hurricane Hugo hit the area. After seeing the extent of the damage, Caison called the South Carolina Baptist Convention and told them his community needed help. Trucks were already on the way.
For nine months, SBDR volunteers served Caison’s community and helped get people back on their feet. His church and the local fire department fed and housed the volunteers. The church raised about $260,000 to help local families impacted by the disaster.
“We fell into that opportunity to care and love on people beyond the physical, even into the spiritual realm,” Caison said. “God showed me up close and personal what can happen when you tie the command to ‘go and make disciples’ with the command to care for people.”
Caison was hooked. His church worked with the South Carolina Baptist Convention to create the first feeding unit in the state. Caison and a team from his church took the feeding unit to Florida in August 1992 to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. Though they initially planned to serve 1,500 meals a day, the team stayed in Florida for six weeks and served 15,000 meals a day.

Photo courtesy of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief
Mickey Caison, national director of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief for the North American Mission Board, spoke to state Baptist disaster relief leaders in Denton, Texas, at their annual “Round Table” in January celebrating SBDR’s 50-year anniversary.

In 1994, after leading several disaster responses when fulltime staff weren’t available, the SBC Brotherhood Commission asked Caison to become SBDR national director.
Caison oversaw one of the most significant innovations in disaster relief a few years later when SBDR began deploying chaplains during 9/11. Caison had seen the value of chaplains during the Southern Baptist response to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, as Baptist chaplains in the police department and Federal Bureau of Investigation had responded powerfully to the spiritual needs in the aftermath. When 9/11 hit, Caison called Sam Porter, then-director of Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief and now NAMB’s new SBDR national director, and asked him to bring some of the chaplains who had helped at Oklahoma City.
“I saw those chaplains walking the streets in downtown Manhattan, going up to those makeshift memorials, and being in the morgue and at Ground Zero with the cops and the firemen and all,” Caison said. “It was so critical for us to have the chaplains with us to deal with the immense spiritual needs that were there. I knew they needed to be a big part of our future.”
Caison also led SBDR’s efforts in its largest deployment in history after Hurricane Katrina, as Southern Baptists subsequently served more than 15 million meals in New Orleans and southern Mississippi. SBDR also spent five years helping to rebuild the Gulf Coast after the initial response.
Caison said he has seen God work through volunteers in amazing ways during his 30 years in SBDR. He has seen God use the Southern Baptist response to disasters to change not only the lives of those they’re serving, but to transform those who serve as well.
“You know, people say there are no miracles today,” Caison said. “I see them every day as I see what God is doing. ... You just have to pay attention. It’s gotten to the point that I know it’s going to happen. I just praise Him when it happens over and over and over again.”
NAMB President Kevin Ezell said Caison’s influence has been remarkable.
“Mickey’s contribution to Southern Baptist relief efforts goes beyond measure,” Ezell said. “His role has been pivotal, and we are deeply indebted to him. He put off retirement not once but twice to help us out. Even now, he continues. That’s the kind of heart he has for serving.”
After 23 years of denominational service, Caison is asking God for the opportunity to serve as a transitional pastor somewhere in the north Atlanta area.
“As a pastor, I empowered people and that’s what I want to try to do again,” Caison said. “I want to serve churches that are in the throes of a crisis and be able to step in and help them work through that crisis and put them on a good footing, so their next pastor can come in and take them to a new level.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)

12/8/2017 8:05:00 AM by Tobin Perry, NAMB | with 0 comments

Gay marriage legalized in Australia & Austria

December 8 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Australia’s Parliament legalized same-sex marriage Dec. 7, following a court ruling doing the same in Austria two days earlier, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Churches and religious organizations in Australia are allowed under the new law to boycott gay weddings without violating existing anti-discrimination mandates, the AP said. The Australian Parliament overwhelmingly approved gay marriage following a nationwide postal ballot that drew approval from 62 percent of voters Oct. 27.
The countries join at least 25 other nations where the practice was legalized as early as 2000, according to Pew Research tallied through August.
Austria’s Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest jurisdiction, reversed Dec. 5 a law that limited same-sex couples to legal partnerships, CNN reported. Austria’s law takes effect in January, 2019; but Australia will allow gay marriages immediately following legal formalities, AP said, beginning in perhaps a month.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., in the Dec. 7 “The Briefing” podcast, said the Austrian law redefines marriage by extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples in the name of equality.
“It means that the civil partnerships which were invented as a form of something like marriage for same-sex couples” are now available to heterosexual couples, Mohler said. “Heterosexual couples themselves are now demanding access to what we might call ‘marriage light.’”
Earlier in 2017, Germany and Malta legalized gay marriage. The U.S. was the 22nd nation to do so, according to Pew, with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June, 2015.
The Netherlands led the way in legalizing gay marriage in 2000. In addition to countries already referenced above, Belgium legalized gay marriage in 2003, followed by Canada and Spain (2005), South Africa (2006), Norway (2008), Sweden (2009), Argentina, Iceland and Portugal (2010), Denmark (2012), Brazil, England/Wales, France, New Zealand and Uruguay (2013), Luxembourg and Scotland (2014), Finland, Greenland and Ireland (2015) and Columbia (2016).
Countries considering gay marriage include Chile, where lawmakers Nov. 27 began debating a bill to do just that, the National LGBT Media Association reported Nov. 28.
Gay marriage has been legal in some jurisdictions of Mexico since 2009, but not countrywide, Pew said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

12/8/2017 8:00:00 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Jeff Struecker, Scott Pace, Ronjour Locke join SEBTS faculty

December 7 2017 by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS

Military veteran and pastor Jeff Struecker has been appointed to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s (SEBTS) faculty as assistant professor of Christian leadership.

Also joining the faculty are Scott Pace of Oklahoma Baptist University (OBU) and Ronjour Locke, a pastor in urban Baltimore, as fulltime preaching professors.

Jeff Struecker

Struecker, who received his Ph.D. from SEBTS in 2015, is lead pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus, Ga., and will remain in the pastorate while teaching at Southeastern.
Struecker’s role will include teaching graduate and doctoral intensives. He will co-teach his first Ph.D. seminar in January.
SEBTS President Danny Akin said Struecker, a decorated Army Ranger and inductee into the Ranger Hall of Fame, “knows by training and experience the importance of wise and strategic leadership.”
Students in Struecker’s classes “will greatly benefit from the insights and wisdom of this godly man and national hero,” Akin said.
Struecker has more than 22 years of military service, 10 years of which were served as private and platoon sergeant in the 75th Ranger Regiment. During his time of service in Somalia, Struecker surrendered his life to the Lord and decided to become a chaplain in the Airborne and Ranger units, which he served for the last 10 years of his military career.
His military experience includes operations such as Black Hawk Down in Somalia, Operation Desert Storm and more than a dozen tours throughout Afghanistan and Iraq. He was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in June, an honor accorded to deceased or out of service Rangers for at least three years who have served in a Ranger unit during combat and have graduated from a U.S. Army Ranger course.
Struecker, in looking forward to teaching students how to become more effective leaders, said he believes the church “deserves the best leaders in the world, not just marginal leaders, so I hope I can make an investment.”
In seeking to show students what it means to lead in a “God-honoring, biblically appropriate way,” Struecker noted, “All leadership boils down to dealing with people and you have to really understand yourself and people if you want to lead effectively.”
Struecker has written five books. He and his wife Dawn have five children, Aaron, Jacob, Joseph, Abigail and Lydia.
The new preaching professors, Scott Pace and Ronjour Locke, are “faithful expositors and churchmen,” Akin said. “Their passion for Christ, the Great Commission, the Word of God and the lost make them a perfect fit for [SEBTS].”
Pace, who received his master of divinity and Ph.D. degrees from SEBTS, has been named associate professor of preaching and pastoral ministry and associate director for the Center for Preaching and Pastoral Leadership. He will begin his position June 1, 2018.
Pace has taught at a number of institutions, including OBU in Shawnee where he currently serves as associate professor of applied ministry and the Hughes Chair of Christian ministry. Pace has served in pastoral ministry since 2000 and academic administration since 2005. He and his wife Dana have four children, Gracelyn, Tyler, Tessa and Cassie.
OBU President David Whitlock, expressing appreciation for Pace’s contribution to OBU, said, “A winsome witness for Christ, Scott has made a huge difference at OBU and leaves us stronger and better for his service here. I will personally miss him but am excited for his new opportunities for ministry at our sister institution, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.”
Locke, who received his M.Div. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been named instructor of preaching and urban ministry, beginning Jan. 1.
Keith Whitfield, dean of graduate studies at SEBTS, said Locke “is passionate about training students to be able to teach the Bible in any and every context that God sends them. Ronjour comes to us with ministry experience from an urban context, which will be a great asset for the training and equipping of our students.”
Locke formerly was pastor of First Baptist Church in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Baltimore and currently is pursuing a Ph.D. at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Annnie have four children: Joshua, Noah, Mikaiya and Naomi.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press senior editor Art Toalston with reporting by Lauren Pratt of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

12/7/2017 9:02:21 AM by Lauren Pratt, SEBTS | with 0 comments

Wedding cake arguments build religious liberty case

December 7 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Religious liberty advocates left the U.S. Supreme Court Dec. 5 with some hope that the justices would rule in favor of a Colorado cake artist who refused to design a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding celebration.
The high court heard oral arguments in a major free-speech and free-exercise-of-religion case at the center of the contentious debate between religious liberty and sexual liberty. Multiple cases involving wedding vendors who oppose using their talents in support of gay marriage are being contested in the courts, but it was an appeal by Jack Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop that gained the justices’ consideration first.
The Supreme Court’s decision – which is expected before its term ends in late June or early July 2018 – could be pivotal in determining how much liberty is possessed by Christians and others in the face of governmental requirements that they believe violate their consciences.
“The Supreme Court has an opportunity to safeguard the freedom of expression, a vital right to all Americans in every walk of life, and we pray the court takes that opportunity,” said Travis Wussow, general counsel and vice president for public policy of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
“This case is about whether the government can force Jack to use his creative gifts to share a message that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs,” Wussow told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “A win for Jack would be a win for future Americans seeking to live a life of integrity, open and free in the public square.”
Phillips, who is a Christian, declined to design and decorate a cake for the wedding of two men because of his belief that marriage is between only a male and a female. He told the couple, however, he would make and sell them all other baked items.
After the men filed a complaint with the state, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered Phillips to create custom cakes for same-sex ceremonies or quit designing wedding cakes. He stopped designing wedding cakes. The commission also ordered him to re-educate his employees on complying with the Colorado Anti-discrimination Act (CADA), which includes sexual orientation as a protected class, which the panel found Phillips had violated.
When Phillips appealed, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the commission’s order, and the Colorado Supreme Court declined in 2016 to review the decision.
Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, a frequent swing vote on the court, provided encouragement to lawyers supporting Phillips with some of his questions and comments during the oral arguments.
Kennedy asked Frederick Yarger, Colorado’s solicitor general, if he would disavow the statement of a state civil rights commissioner who said, in the justice’s words, “freedom of religion used to justify discrimination is a despicable piece of rhetoric.”
Yarger disavowed the remark, and Kennedy later said, “Counselor, tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual. It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.”
Yarger said he didn’t “agree that Colorado hasn’t taken very seriously the rights of those who wish to practice their faith.”
Kennedy took issue with an argument used by David Cole, the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) national legal director representing the gay couple, who said Phillips’ refusal to design a cake was based on the gay identity of the men.
“[S]uppose [Phillips] says, ‘Look, I have nothing against gay people,’” Kennedy said. “He says, ‘But I just don’t think they should have a marriage because that’s contrary to my beliefs.’”
In response, Cole contended “there’s no question that identity discrimination is involved here because, again, the only thing the baker knew was the identity of the people” involved.
Kennedy disagreed, saying, “It’s not their identity; it’s what they’re doing. ... Your identity thing is just too facile.”
After sitting in on the arguments, Eric Baxter, senior counsel for the public-interest legal institute Becket, said Kennedy “seemed very aware that tolerance is a two-way street and that a free society requires it to run both directions.”
Michael Whitehead, a Southern Baptist lawyer in suburban Kansas City, Mo., who also was in the courtroom, said there is “reason to hope Kennedy will lean toward free speech and against anti-religious animus by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.”
“This is a pivotal case in the battle for religious liberty,” said Whitehead, who wrote a friend-of-the-court brief filed by the ERLC and others in support of Phillips.
“The questioning was intense to both sides, and the result is too close to call,” Whitehead told BP in written remarks.
Baxter said he is optimistic in an email interview.
“Almost all of the judges seemed to get that there is a difference between refusing to create a cake because of the cake maker’s deeply held religious beliefs, which is what Mr. Phillips did, and refusing to create the cake because of the customer’s sexual orientation,” Baxter said.
“They seemed to get that the thought of the government forcing anyone to participate in ceremonies like weddings, bar mitzvahs, baptisms or funerals is troubling,” Baxter told BP. “The government should not be able to force anyone to celebrate, to clap for or to salute at someone else’s ceremony against their own religious convictions.”
Associate Justice Samuel Alito asked Cole if “someone can be compelled to write particular words with which that person strongly disagrees,” a position he attributed to the state as well.
“If he was written the same words for others, and the only difference is the identity of the customer, yes,” Cole replied.
Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom who argued on behalf of Phillips, told reporters afterward the Supreme Court has never compelled artistic expression. “And if it does so now, we will have less stability, less pluralism and less diversity in our society,” she said.
Baxter, assessing the arguments by the ACLU’s Cole, said, “... if they win, a lot of free speech will be at risk.”
“There are many reasons – both religious and secular – why someone might object to a particular wedding,” he told BP. “The court can no more force someone to celebrate a wedding than it can force them to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and it can no more force someone to support someone else’s celebration than it could force someone to raise the flag for the Pledge of Allegiance.”
During the arguments, U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco said in support of Phillips, “[W]hen you force a speaker to both engage in speech and contribute that speech to an expressive event that they disagree with, you fundamentally transform the nature of their message from one that they want to say to one that they don’t want to say.”
Alito and Waggoner both pointed to the civil rights commission’s divergent handling of complaints regarding bakers who would not design cakes about same-sex marriage. An individual who asked three businesses to create a cake opposing gay marriage was refused and complained to the commission. The commission rejected his complaint.
“It’s OK for a baker who supports same-sex marriage to refuse to create a cake with a message that is opposed to same-sex marriage,” Alito said in describing the commission’s ruling. “But when the tables are turned and you have the baker who opposes same-sex marriage, that baker may be compelled to create a cake that expresses approval of same-sex marriage.”
Members of the court’s liberal wing – Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – peppered Waggoner with questions, especially regarding hypothetical situations that might be similar to designing a wedding cake. Kennedy was among those who expressed concerns about the impact of Phillips’ position.
Many liberal religious groups voiced opposition to granting Phillips the right to refuse service to a same-sex couple.
“Using Christianity and religious liberty to justify discrimination runs counter to our faith which calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves because they are created in God’s image,” said Jennifer Butler, chief executive office of Faith in Public Life, in a written statement.
More than 40 friend-of-the-court briefs were filed with the court on behalf of each party.
In addition to the ERLC, others filing briefs in support of Phillips included 86 members of Congress, 20 states or governors of states, Becket, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Christian Legal Society, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Agudath Israel of America, the libertarian Cato Institute, National Black Religious Broadcasters and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Jonathan Whitehead, also a Southern Baptist lawyer in suburban Kansas City, Mo., and the son of Michael Whitehead, wrote the brief for the members of Congress.
Among those signing on to briefs in support of the Colorado commission were the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; 211 members of Congress; 19 states and the District of Columbia; American Bar Association; NAACP; Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Freedom From Religion Foundation; and various religious, disability and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations.
The Christian Life Commission of the Missouri Baptist Convention was among those joining the ERLC in its brief.
The case is Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/7/2017 9:01:32 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Survey: Evangelical label, beliefs often at odds

December 7 2017 by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends

About one in four Americans say they are evangelical Christians. Most of them are white, live in the South and identify as Republican. Many go to church every week.

But they’re not always sure what they believe.
Fewer than half of those who identify as evangelicals (45 percent) strongly agree with core evangelical beliefs, according to a survey by LifeWay Research released Dec. 5.
“There’s a gap between who evangelicals say they are and what they believe,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, based in Nashville.
And a significant number of evangelical believers reject the term “evangelical.” Only two-thirds (69 percent) of evangelicals by belief self-identify as evangelicals.

Beliefs & belonging

For the past few years, LifeWay Research has been looking at the intersection of belief and belonging in the evangelical movement.

Some research studies define “evangelical” by self-identification, with respondents picking from a list of religious traditions. Others categorize people as evangelical by the churches they identify with.
In this new survey, LifeWay used a set of four questions about the Bible, Jesus, salvation and evangelism developed in partnership with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Those who strongly agree with all four are considered to be evangelicals by belief.
Fifteen percent of Americans are evangelicals by belief, according to LifeWay Research. By contrast, 24 percent of Americans self-identify as evangelicals.
Researchers found some significant differences between the two groups.
Evangelicals by belief are more diverse than self-identified evangelicals. Fifty-eight percent, from the standpoint of beliefs, are white, 23 percent are African American and 14 percent are Hispanic. Five percent claim another ethnicity.
By contrast, 70 percent of self-identified evangelicals are white; 14 percent are African Americans; 12 percent are Hispanic; and 4 percent claim another ethnicity.
Evangelicals by belief go to church more often. Seventy-three percent say they attend services once a week or more. That drops to 61 percent for self-identified evangelicals.

Evangelicals congregate in the South

The two groups of evangelicals share some similarities. About half are Southerners. Most are Republicans.

Just over half (55 percent) of evangelicals by belief live in the South; 22 percent are in the Midwest; 16 percent in the West; and 6 percent in the Northeast.
Among self-identified evangelicals, 48 percent live in the South; 25 percent in the Midwest; 17 percent in West; and 9 percent in the Northeast.
“If you are an evangelical who lives in the South, you’re often going to run into people who believe the same things you do,” McConnell said. “In the Northeast, you’re often going to feel alone.”
Two-thirds of evangelicals by belief (65 percent) are Republicans or lean Republican while 30 percent are Democrats or lean Democratic and 4 percent are undecided or independent.
Among self-identified evangelicals, 64 percent are Republicans or lean Republican; 33 percent are Democrats or lean Democratic; and 3 percent are undecided or independent.
Both groups also tend to be older, with 31 percent of Americans 65 and older identifying as evangelicals. That drops to 22 percent among those 18 to 34. Meanwhile, 19 percent of those 65 and older hold evangelical beliefs, dropping to 10 percent for those 18 to 34.
The more education Americans have, the less likely they are to be evangelicals of either type. A quarter of Americans with a high school diploma or less (26 percent) or some college (28 percent) identify as evangelicals, whereas 18 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree say they are evangelicals.
Americans with some college (20 percent) are more likely to have evangelical beliefs than those with a bachelor’s degree (9 percent) or graduate degree (12 percent).
Some of the results surprised McConnell, especially when it came to politics. He expected more political differences between the two types of evangelicals.
“The political differences between them turn out to be very small,” he said.
LifeWay Research also asked if politics played a role in whether Americans identify as evangelicals. It appears that few evangelicals shun the term because of its political implications.
When asked, “If the term had nothing to do with politics, would you consider yourself an evangelical Christian?” one in four Americans say yes – almost identical to the number of who identify as evangelicals without any political qualifications.
McConnell suspects that party affiliation and race play a bigger role in how people vote than faith does.
“Evangelical religious beliefs by themselves do not explain political behavior,” he said. “Ethnic group is a better predictor of political behavior, but the best predictor of voting patterns is one’s political party identification.”

Born-again Americans a diverse crowd

The term “born again” has often been used as a synonym for self-identified evangelicals. LifeWay Research found some overlap between the two groups.
Two-thirds (66 percent) of self-identified born-again Americans say they are evangelicals. That remains true even if the term evangelical didn’t have political implications (67 percent).
Like self-identified evangelicals, fewer than half (45 percent) hold evangelical beliefs. And they are less likely (56 percent) to attend services once a week or more than either type of evangelicals.
Born-again Americans have more political parity than either type of evangelicals. Fifty-six percent are Republican or lean Republican; 39 percent are Democrats or lean Democratic; and 5 percent are undecided or independent.
African American Christians appear to find the term “born again” more appealing than “evangelical.”
African Americans are more likely to say they are born again (49 percent) than whites (27 percent), Hispanics (24 percent) or those from other ethnicities (19 percent).
African Americans are also the most likely to have evangelical beliefs (30 percent). Whites (13 percent), Hispanics (13 percent) and those from other ethnicities are less likely (9 percent). African Americans (30 percent) and whites (26 percent) are more likely to say they are evangelical than Hispanics (18 percent) or those from other ethnicities (11 percent).
McConnell said some research groups in the past limited the term “evangelical” to white Christians. Others have focused on white evangelical voters – which has left out other ethnic groups.
“For many African Americans, the term ‘evangelical’ is a turn-off, even though they hold evangelical beliefs,” McConnell said. “The term ‘evangelical’ is often viewed as applying to white Christians only. And that’s unfortunate. It’s lost some of its religious meaning that actually unites these groups.”


LifeWay Research conducted the study Nov. 10-12, 2017. The survey was conducted using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Initially, participants are chosen by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. People in selected households are then invited by telephone or by mail to participate in the web-enabled KnowledgePanel. For those who agree to participate but do not have internet access, GfK provides at no cost a laptop and ISP connection.
For this survey, a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults (18 and older) was selected from the KnowledgePanel. Sample stratification and base weights were used for gender, age, race/ethnicity, region, metro/non-metro, home ownership, education and income to reflect the most recent U.S. Census data. Study-specific weights included for gender by age, race/ethnicity, region and education to reflect 2016 General Social Survey data. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
Evangelical beliefs are defined using the NAE LifeWay Research Evangelical Beliefs Research Definition based on respondent beliefs. Respondents are asked their level of agreement with four separate statements using a four-point, forced-choice scale (strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree). Respondents are categorized as having evangelical beliefs if they strongly agree with all four statements:

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for Facts & Trends, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

12/7/2017 9:00:53 AM by Bob Smietana, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments

California churches in wildfire path; DR on standby

December 7 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

With five wildfires burning in California, the latest in Los Angeles, Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers are on standby and several church facilities are unreachable, ministry leaders there told Baptist Press (BP).

Screen capture from
The Skirball fire that erupted in Los Angeles proper at 4 a.m. (PST) Dec. 6 had burned 150 acres, forced evacuation orders for some 150,000 residents, and was not at all contained more than six hours later.

The Thomas fire in Ventura, the largest, is threatening churches in the Gold Coast Baptist Association that are included in mandatory evacuation zones, Director of Missions Vern Hancock said. Springs of Life Church in the Casitas Springs community of Ventura was in imminent danger, but Hancock had been unable to contact its pastor Douglas Jones by BP’s deadline Dec. 6.
“All of Casitas Springs, the whole area, has been evacuated, and I’ve got a note in now to the pastor to find out what he knows,” Hancock said. “The problem is the roads are all closed. You can’t even get up there, so we have no idea what’s going on at this point.”
A disaster relief volunteer visited two Ventura County evacuation shelters Dec. 5, and found “small populations” of evacuees and “very smoky conditions,” California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC) disaster relief director Mike Bivins said this morning.
“We are still very much in the emergency stage of the disastrous fires in Southern California,” Bivins said. “Our CSBC Disaster Relief volunteer teams are on standby to assist where needed, however [volunteers] are not currently activated.”
In addition to Springs of Life Church, pastors of at least five churches whose buildings are possibly endangered by the Ventura blaze, including facilities in Santa Paula and Ojai, were unreachable, Hancock said.
“That’s why I have a call in to my pastors out there. I’m about 40 miles from there,” Hancock said. “I’ve got to get those guys on the ground to let me know what’s going on.”
The latest wildfire, the Skirball in Los Angeles, erupted at 4 a.m. (PST)  Dec. 6 along the 405 Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass and had burned at least 150 acres by about six hours later, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Los Angeles Fire Department said the fire was not at all contained and ordered about 150,000 people to evacuate, the Times reported.
The windswept fires are in addition to wildfires that scorched parts of northern California this fall, and account for what authorities have called the worst wildfire season in the state’s history, according to CNN. The fires have killed more than 40 people, according to news reports.
The Thomas fire reached the Pacific Coast today, destroying at least 150,000 buildings along the way, the Times reported.
Other strong wildfires in Southern California, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) reported at 7 a.m. Dec. 6, are the Creek Fire, which had burned 11,377 acres in Los Angeles County; the Rye Fire, which had burned 7,000 acres in Los Angeles County, and the Little Mountain Fire, which had burned 100 acres in San Bernardino County.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

12/7/2017 8:51:16 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gospel vision anchors Mexico City team

December 7 2017 by IMB staff

From Todd Beel’s house in Mexico City, he can spot planes coming in every five minutes or so. “Each time, that’s another couple hundred people coming in from Europe, multiple cities across Europe, cities across South America, many cities in the United States and Canada,” he points out.

IMB Photo
Men play chess in the historic district of Mexico City. International Mission Board missionaries serving in the city are investing their lives to reach the more than 20 million people who live there, as well as the business people who come and go every day from other parts of the world.

Each time one lands, the city of more than 28 million opens its arms to a little more diversity, and each time, for Todd’s team of 12 International Mission Board missionaries, the task gets a little bigger. But that’s exactly why they’re compelled to be there.
“Those are people coming and going all day long for business, work, sports and study,” said Todd, who serves as team leader. “It’s kind of like, ‘Who has the Lord brought to this city today who needs to be reached with the gospel?’ Many of them are coming from unreached people groups around the world.”
And as those planes leave again, they could be taking the gospel back with them, he noted. That’s the hope of the team, a dozen people from a diverse collection of backgrounds and skill sets all working together to equip new believers to take the gospel to unreached pockets of Mexico City and the world. Some are single, some are married and some have children. They hail from places such as Colombia, Cuba, Korea and Tennessee. And they have one vision – to see the world worship Jesus and for it to start right where they are.
Will Wright, a young 20-something who recently joined the team, said it’s a big vision, but at the micro level, he can already see God at work.
Wright has been working to build a strategy to reach the city’s universities. And in getting to know the students, a recent conversation turned into a four-hour discussion about the gospel. The next thing he knew, a young man named Daniel chose Christ over all the other things that had seemed good in his life before.
“Within a very short amount of time, there’s drastic changes in his life,” Will said. “He’s wanting to live for the Lord. I see him broken over the sins of other people. I see him with a passion that other people come to know the Lord.”
And Will, Todd and others are praising God for that kind of transformation and hoping to fan the flame of that passion into a fire that reaches the whole world for Christ.
“I’m just excited to think about the potential in what may be happening in the years to come, not only within but also without, as the people of the city, those that will come to know the Lord or already do, are mobilized to make a difference,” Todd said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 3-10. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, 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 $160 million.)

12/7/2017 8:35:52 AM by IMB staff | with 0 comments

High court weighs cake artist’s liberty

December 6 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court grilled four lawyers Dec. 5 in its effort to determine if a state can require a cake artist to design a cake for a same-sex wedding in spite of his free-speech and free-exercise-of-religion rights.
The justices heard oral arguments in an appeal by Colorado cake artist Jack Phillips and his Masterpiece Cakeshop in a major case at the center of the growing legal and cultural skirmish between religious liberty and sexual liberty.
The court is expected to issue an opinion next year before its term ends in late June or early July.
Phillips, who is a Christian, declined to design and decorate a cake for the wedding of two men because of his belief marriage is between only a male and a female. But he told them he would make and sell them all other baked items.
After the men filed a complaint with the state, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ordered Phillips to create custom cakes for same-sex ceremonies or quit designing wedding cakes. He stopped designing wedding cakes. The commission also ordered him to re-educate his employees on complying with the Colorado Anti-discrimination Act, which includes sexual orientation as a protected class and the panel found Phillips had violated.
When Phillips appealed, the Colorado Court of Appeals upheld the commission’s order, and the Colorado Supreme Court declined in 2016 to review the decision.
Supporters of Phillips hope the high court will provide a victory for wedding vendors and others who object to being compelled to provide support for same-sex marriage.
“Consciences should be protected by law and in courts,” Southern Baptist religious freedom advocate Russell Moore told Baptist Press in written comments Dec. 5. “This case, however, shows once more that a state-established religion of sexual liberation tolerates no dissent. The lives and livelihoods of real people are on the line in this case, all because they won’t render unto Caesar that which they believe belongs to God.”
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said he prays the Supreme Court “will uphold conscience over coercion and rule in favor of a public square that shows mutual respect for all its citizens.”
The ERLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Phillips.
In the arguments, Kristen Waggoner, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) who represented Phillips, told the justices the First Amendment forbids government compulsion of speech but the state of Colorado had required Phillips to communicate a message in violation of his religious beliefs and that constitutional prohibition.
The justices offered numerous hypothetical cases during the arguments. Associate Justice Elena Kagan questioned whether a chef, hairstylist or makeup artist would be analogous to a cake artist. Unlike Phillips’ artistry in designing a cake and its message, those vocations are not practicing speech, Waggoner said.
The Trump administration took part in the arguments on behalf of Phillips, with Solicitor General Noel Francisco contending the Colorado commission’s ruling violated free speech.
David Cole – representing Charlie Craig and David Mullins, the same-sex couple who sought a cake design from Phillips – told the justices the government can compel a person to communicate speech.
He does not doubt the cake artist’s religious beliefs but they produced “unacceptable consequences,” said Cole, the American Civil Liberties Union’s national legal director. Phillips’ action lowered “gay and lesbian people to second-class status,” he said.
After the arguments, ADF President Michael Farris told reporters, “This is the first time in American history there is a serious consideration of compelling people to deliver a message that is contrary to their beliefs. We recognize that on each side of this question people are going to be offended. But if being offended is enough to curtail someone else’s religious freedom or their freedom of speech, this will no longer be the same country that was founded over 200 years ago.”
He believes “we have a very good chance of prevailing in this case, but it’s going to be close,” Farris said.
Holly Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), said in a written statement after the arguments, “No one should doubt that the baker’s religious objection is sincere. But the assertion of a faith-based objection cannot be enough to justify an exemption from a nondiscrimination law. Such a rule would put religious liberty at greater risk.
“No customer should fear being denied goods or services by a business that is open to the public simply because of the business owner’s religious view,” she said.
The BJC represented the Southern Baptist Convention on church-state issues until the early 1990s.
More than 40 friend-of-the-court briefs were filed with the court on behalf of each party.
In addition to the ERLC, others filing briefs in support of Phillips included 86 members of Congress, 20 states or governors of states, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Christian Legal Society, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Agudath Israel of America, the libertarian Cato Institute, National Black Religious Broadcasters and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Among those signing onto briefs in support of the Colorado commission were the BJC; 211 members of Congress; 19 states and the District of Columbia; American Bar Association; NAACP; Americans United for Separation of Church and State; Freedom From Religion Foundation; and various religious, disability, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations.
Among the seven organizations joining the ERLC on its brief was the Christian Life Commission of the Missouri Baptist Convention. An individual also signed the brief.
The case is Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

12/6/2017 9:32:08 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

TN fires: Churches reflect on God’s grace 1 year later

December 6 2017 by David Dawson, Baptist and Reflector

For pastor Kim McCroskey and his congregation, the odyssey appears to be nearly over.
After spending nearly exactly one year in temporary venues, the members of Roaring Fork Baptist Church in Gatlinburg will soon be returning to their original location.

Photo by Joe Sorah
One year after fire destroyed the sanctuary and fellowship hall of Roaring Fork Baptist Church in Gatlinburg, the new sanctuary is nearing completion.

“The light at the end of the tunnel is really bright,” McCroskey said. “We know we are about to come back home.”
Roaring Fork Baptist was destroyed last November – losing its sanctuary and family life center – in the Great Smoky Mountain wildfires that swept through the region. But after a long and steady recovery process, aided by Tennessee Baptist disaster relief teams and Builders for Christ, the church is scheduled to start hosting services on its campus again within the next few weeks.
The recovery at Roaring Fork is a snapshot of the year-long restoration that has taken place all across Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas. The region has steadily begun to reemerge, somewhat literally rising from the ashes, after an estimated 2,400 structures were damaged or destroyed and more than 17,000 acres were burned. Signs of recovery are visible throughout the region.
At Roaring Fork, worship services will soon be held in the church’s new family life center, which is on schedule to be opened before Christmas. The services will then move to the church’s new sanctuary when it is completed a month or two later.
“We’ve had a few things jump up that we weren’t expecting, but we’re in pretty good shape, especially considering that we didn’t start until the middle of May,” McCroskey said. “We’re going to be done, I believe, in the middle of February.”
During the rebuilding process, the Roaring Fork congregation has been meeting for worship at Camp Smoky. The church also held services under a temporary pavilion this summer. All the while, God’s presence was evident.
“It’s been an emotional experience,” McCroskey said. “But we’ve seen people being saved throughout the whole thing – and that’s what has kept me going. We’ve had over 70 people saved since the fire.”

Looking back, looking ahead

The wildfires are considered to be one of the biggest natural disasters in Tennessee history, claiming the lives of 14 people and destroying more than 2,000 homes and buildings. In recent weeks, numerous services and gatherings have been held to honor the victims and to salute the city’s resolve while reflecting on the tragedy that transpired one year earlier.

File photo by Lonnie Wilkey
Kim McCroskey, right, pastor of Roaring Fork Baptist Church, describes the destruction to Joe Sorah, left, of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board staff. In the background is Wes Jones, Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief specialist.

“The ceremonies brought back a lot of memories,” said Kaye Thomas of First Baptist Church, Sevierville. “In some ways, it seems like a long time ago.”
Thomas and her husband John played a pivotal role during the recovery process, serving as incident commanders in the relief efforts. Working out of a building on the First Baptist campus, the couple coordinated the volunteer teams who came to work in Sevier County.
First Baptist housed and fed the Tennessee Disaster Relief (DR) teams and other volunteers for roughly four months. All told, the church hosted more than 2,000 volunteers, representing five states, during the recovery process.
“My husband and I have worked in DR since the 1990s, but this is the first time we’ve worked here in our own community,” Thomas said. “It’s been very different this time in that we didn’t go somewhere and then come back home. The disaster was here, all the time, 24/7. So that’s been very different.”
Robert Nichols, the director of missions for the Sevier County Association, and his team were among the dedicated group of workers who helped the area begin the healing process.
“People were very committed to coming,” Thomas said. “And we cannot begin to express how thankful and appreciative we are. We had numerous teams that came from our neighbors in Nolachucky Baptist Association and Knox County Association of Baptists. They were truly wonderful neighbors in terms of coming to help.”
Banner Baptist Church, located just outside the Gatlinburg city limits, lost its fellowship hall during the fires, and roughly two dozen families from the church saw their homes destroyed. But they, too, have steadily recovered.
“Most of our work has been about concentrating on the families that lost everything, and most of them are back where they need to be, or at least in the process of getting there,” pastor Pete Lamon said.
Tennessee disaster relief teams were instrumental in helping Banner Baptist’s recovery, and the church recently reciprocated by giving $5,000 – which represents about 8 to 10 percent of the church’s budget – to disaster relief to aid the hurricane-ravaged areas of Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
“We decided to give (the donation) to Tennessee Disaster Relief because they helped us tremendously with the work they did for us during the clean-up (after the fires),” Lamon said. “We felt this would be the best place for us to provide resources for them.”

Staying strong

The Gatlinburg area has adopted the slogan “Mountain Tough” to describe the region’s ability to stay strong in the most challenging of circumstances.
The phrase could also be used to describe the Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief teams and volunteers, who have been visible and constant throughout the recovery process.
“Since the fires, 433 projects have been completed by our volunteers,” said Wes Jones, the disaster relief specialist at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “Everything from debris clean-up to sifting ashes to demolition work and on down the list.”
The rebuilding phase has been a painstaking process for all who were affected by the fires, as communities have dealt with levels of destruction and grief that were unprecedented in the area. But now, much of the recovery – including some of the hardest work – is complete.
“Things are still moving,” Jones said. “We are out of the response phase and nearing the end of the rebuild phase, too.”
The new buildings that are emerging across the region aren’t the only signs of recovery. Emotional healing is taking place, too.
“Yesterday was a beautiful day, and we talked about how it was such a change from last year at this time,” Thomas said, “when you could hardly see because the whole area was so smoky.”
As traumatic as the fires were, God’s presence was felt, and many lives were changed for the better. At Roaring Fork, numerous professions of faith were made in the midst of the chaos and destruction.
“We met all summer in a pavilion that we built, and I started calling it ‘the anointed pavilion’ because we were seeing people saved every week under that pavilion,” McCroskey said. “The first week we started rebuilding, there were people saved and it just continued all summer. I’ve already got people lined up to be baptized in the new church. I am anxiously awaiting getting the baptistery up and going so that we can get some people under the water who have already been under the blood.”
McCroskey said he is thankful to be able to look back and see how God has been at work throughout the past 12 months.
“We have been blessed in so many ways, and I believe God is going to do some big things in Gatlinburg,” McCroskey said. “Save your fork, the best is yet to come.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Dawson is a communications specialist with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.)

12/6/2017 9:31:44 AM by David Dawson, Baptist and Reflector | with 0 comments

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