February 2013

Deadline extended to receive nominations

February 19 2013 by BSC

The Committee on Nominations of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) has extended its deadline to receive recommendations for the Board of Directors and Convention committees until March 13, 2013.
The Convention’s Committee on Nominations seeks diversity among the recommendations that will represent churches of various sizes, various professional and educational backgrounds, ethnic and racial diversity, geographical areas, different age groups, and lay persons as well as ministers.
Input from North Carolina Baptists regarding nominations of individuals to serve is essential for the ongoing missions, ministries and evangelistic endeavors of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
BSC bylaws require the following of the Committee on Nominations:
  1. Recommend to the Convention nominees from both small and large churches (under/over 400 members)
  2. Limit churches to no more than six individuals from a single church serving on all Convention boards and committees combined
  3. Limit BSC Board of Director membership so that no more than one member from a church may serve on the Board at a time
An individual may only serve on a single committee or a single board at one time, whereas in the past individuals could serve in more than one place at one time. Therefore, it is essential for North Carolina Baptists to recommend more individuals to serve on the Board of Directors and Convention committees.
The Board vacancies are as follows:
  • Region 1                0 Vacancies
  • Region 2                0 Vacancies
  • Region 3                5 Vacancies
  • Region 4                2 Vacancies
  • Region 5                1 Vacancies
  • Region 6                0 Vacancies
  • Region 7                3 Vacancies
  • Region 8                6 Vacancies
  • Region 9                2 Vacancies
  • Region 10             1 Vacancy
To make a nomination, visit here.
For questions related to the recommendation process, contact Cynthia King at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5501, or cking@ncbaptist.org.
2/19/2013 3:50:55 PM by BSC | with 0 comments

Gay marriage bills advance in 2 states

February 19 2013 by Baptist Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Less than two months into the new year, legislative bodies in two states have passed bills that would legalize gay marriage, while a civil unions bill has made progress in a third state.

The Illinois Senate passed a bill Feb. 14 that would legalize gay marriage, three weeks after the Rhode Island House approved a gay marriage bill. The Colorado Senate passed a civil unions bill Feb. 11. Each bill still must pass the other chamber in each state, but significantly, the Democratic governors of each state support the respective bills. Democrats control the legislatures in all three states.

Gay marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia.

The Illinois bill passed by a vote of 34-21, with two members voting present. Illinois already has civil unions, which grant same-sex couples the benefits of marriage, minus the name.

“We are one step closer to marriage equality in Illinois,” Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement after the Senate vote. “Couples across Illinois have even more reason today to celebrate their love for each other, thanks to the hard work of committed advocates and lawmakers.”

The bill’s opponents, though, said the bill would impact religious liberty and parental rights.

“If Illinois legalizes ‘same-sex marriage,’ parents can expect elementary school teachers to include homosexuality in discussions of family and marriage,” Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute wrote. “Some make the absurd argument that since families led by homosexuals exist, schools must teach about them. The truth is, however, that schools have no obligation to teach about every phenomenon that exists, nor do they have to include resources that affirm every phenomenon that exists. Does anyone believe that if a student being raised by polyamorists were enrolled in a public elementary school, teachers or administrators would feel obligated to include books in their libraries that affirm polyamorous family structures?”

Gay marriage legalization, Higgins wrote, will mean that “children will be taught that homosexuality is normative and good.” Society, she said, would be declaring that “children do not have any inherent rights to know and be raised by a mother and a father.”

State Rep. Greg Harris, a Democrat and the lead bill sponsor in the Illinois House, said he believed the bill will pass his chamber, although he declined to say if he has the necessary 60 votes, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“I think we are very close to that,” Harris said.

In Rhode Island, a gay marriage bill passed the House 51-19 in late January, although it faces a more difficult road in the Senate, where Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed opposes it.

In Colorado, a civil unions bill passed the Senate, 21-14 and is favored to pass in the House.

The news wasn’t all bad for traditionalists, though. In Hawaii, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said in mid-February he would not schedule a hearing on a gay marriage bill, a move that apparently kills the bill for this session, the Star-Advertiser newspaper reported. His colleagues, he said, did not want to bring it up.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)
2/19/2013 3:44:58 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sunday suit reconnects pastor & home church

February 19 2013 by David Williams, Baptist Press

CRESWELL, Ore. – Sam Morgan calls himself a “boots and blue jeans type of person,” but last year he realized he needed a new suit.

Since moving from the Bible Belt in 1991 to become pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Creswell, Ore., Morgan had heard about the Mississippi Baptist Convention’s men’s ministry sending new suits to pastors in new work areas.

“The offer had come many times over the years,” Morgan said. “I’ve always declined. I’ve always thought somebody else could use it. This time I thought I really could use a suit, so I accepted.”

He completed an application, filling in his height, weight, suit size, waist, inseam length and chest measurement. He sent it in by the Aug. 31, 2012, deadline.

A couple of months later in Mississippi, George and Ann Underwood first heard of the suit ministry when they attended their state convention as messengers from First Baptist Church in Coldwater. They picked up brochures at the men’s ministry booth and shared the information with their Sunday School class when they returned home.

Sam and Janis Morgan

“The class was excited about the project and decided overwhelmingly to send a gift,” Underwood said.

The collection that morning reached $200 quickly, and then something amazing happened.

“A class member named Russell said that something had prompted him to carry extra money to class that day even though he did not know why. Without further explanation he reached into his pocket and produced two $100 bills, which immediately doubled the gift,” Underwood recounted.

George, assistant teacher of the class, and Ann, class treasurer, sent the $400 to the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board in early November.

In December the Underwoods contacted Deanna Vail with the Mississippi convention’s men’s ministry to ask how they could contact the recipient of their suit in order to pray for him, his family and his ministry. They were told the suit went to an Oregon pastor named Sam Morgan.

Meanwhile, Morgan received his new suit, along with a $125 gift card for his wife Janis and a check for $150. He also contacted Vail, wanting to know whom he could thank. He was told the suit came from a Sunday School class at First Baptist Church in Coldwater.

Morgan was silent. He asked Vail to repeat the name of the church. For clarification, he asked exactly where that church was, what county and association it was in. As she answered his questions, Morgan could hardly believe what he was hearing.

“That’s our home church,” Morgan said. “That’s where we surrendered to ministry.”

Morgan had been working for the phone company in Senatobia, Miss., and living in nearby Coldwater. He was 29, married and had two children. They wanted to get the children into church, so they began attending First Baptist. Soon, Sam and Janis were saved and began serving in the church.

“I struggled with God’s call for three years, then surrendered,” Morgan said.

A key factor in hearing God’s call was when Morgan went on an associational mission trip in 1981 to Billings, Mont., to do construction work. In the summer of 1982, he and Janis made public their call to missions at First Baptist Coldwater. The church ordained him the next year.

“We thought it would be foreign missions,” Morgan said, “but I didn’t have college or seminary. I also needed three years of pastoral experience to go as a missionary with the Foreign Mission Board [now International Mission Board].”

Morgan gave notice to the phone company in August 1983, sold his home and moved to Blue Mountain College to start his “race against the clock,” trying to fulfill requirements for becoming a missionary before his oldest child turned 13, another mission board restriction.

Meanwhile, a country church called Morgan as pastor and he told them he could only stay three years because he was preparing for international missions.

“They were glad because no one else had stayed more than one year,” he said.

After finishing college and a few semesters of seminary, Morgan realized he was not going to complete his master of divinity in time to go as an international missionary. He and Janis began exploring pioneer missions areas in the United States.

In 1991 he was called as full-time pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Creswell, Ore. He has completed 21 years as their pastor.

“The first time I walked into the sanctuary, I knew that was where we were supposed to be,” Morgan said.

He and Janis and their four children moved to Oregon.

The church was averaging 60 people for worship and Morgan began using Sunday School to help the church grow. Worship attendance rose to 150, and their meeting space grew from 6,900 square feet to 18,000 square feet.

Now the church has hit a space barrier and is looking at multiple Sunday School times, off-campus classes and other means to continue to grow. They recently started an off-campus class with 14 people.

First Baptist Coldwater will always be special to the Morgans. It was the church where they were saved and called to ministry. It was the church that ordained him and sent them out.

“That church helped us get through college and seminary and supported us during our first pastorate,” Morgan said. “They paid the hospital bill for our fourth baby.”

They also paid for Morgan’s tuition and books all the way through college.

“They sent us money every month,” he said. “I was able to focus on my studies and my pastorate and Janis was able to stay home with the kids.”

Although they were unable to go overseas as missionaries, serving in the mission field of the Northwest has been a wonderful experience, Morgan said.

“I’ve had some amazing opportunities that would never have happened had we stayed in Mississippi,” he said.

Among those opportunities were serving as second vice president of the Northwest Baptist Convention in 2004, preaching their annual sermon in 2002 and serving a year on the Southern Baptist Convention nominating committee.

And from 2001-09, Morgan served as a trustee of the International Mission Board.

“I had a sense of guilt that we never made it overseas,” Morgan said. “Janis went with me to my first meeting as a trustee, at Glorieta during [international missions week]. It was tremendously emotional, and I would find myself weeping during the services as we heard missionary speakers and leaders. It was the Lord dealing with my grief, saying to me, ‘You didn’t make it overseas, but that wasn’t My plan.’”

Since 1964 the Mississippi Baptist Convention has challenged individuals and church groups to donate money to provide a suit for a pastor serving in the Alaska, Iowa and Northwest Baptist conventions.

“Many of these pastors have no suit nor have the extra money to purchase one,” Vail said. “By sending them a suit we are letting the pastors know that we care about them and that we support their work. If funds are available, we will send a gift certificate to the pastor’s wife.

“Often they go without things that they want or need to support their husband’s ministry,” she said. “This is a wonderful way to show them that they are not forgotten and that the support they provide their husband is truly appreciated.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Williams is editor of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist newspaper.)
2/19/2013 3:30:03 PM by David Williams, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Plan B becomes Plan A

February 19 2013 by Angela Lu, World News Service

Almost 1 in 9 young women who are sexually active have used the morning-after pill after sex, more than double the rate that used it 11 years ago, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released Feb. 14.
The study, which evaluated women between 15 and 44, found that 5.8 million women – 11 percent – used the morning-after pill between 2006 and 2010, compared to 4 percent in 2002. For women between 20 and 24, the rate was even higher: 1 in 4 women who had ever had sex used the drug at some point. 
The increased popularity of the drug stems in part from easier access and media coverage of efforts to lift the age limit for the over-the-counter sales. Women over 17 do not need a prescription to buy the morning-after pill but must request it from a pharmacy. 
Under President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform, employers will be required to cover birth control, including morning-after pills, which likely will increase their use in the future.  
Supporters of morning-after pills, which are sold under the names Plan B, Ella and Preven, claim they are merely contraceptive drugs that delay or prevent ovulation, so the egg is never fertilized. But a second mechanism of the pill prevents a fertilized egg from implanting, which makes it an abortifacient drug.  
The effectiveness of the morning-after pill has also been called into question. Researchers who demanded making it non-prescription found in 2007 that the pill does not reduce either abortion or pregnancy rates. “No study has shown that increased access to this method reduces unintended pregnancy or abortion rates on a population level,” the authors wrote. They also said the drug’s effectiveness may be “substantially” overstated.
Americans United for Life (AUL) Attorney Anna Franzonello said in a statement the increase in use shows many women don’t know what the drugs really do: “AUL’s concern that life-ending drugs are being deceptively labeled as ‘contraception’ has only increased since the period that the CDC’s national Center for Health Services (NCHS) study examined.”
2/19/2013 3:24:59 PM by Angela Lu, World News Service | with 0 comments

Haven of hope: Overcoming darkness, helping the vulnerable

February 18 2013 by Sara Shelton, North American Mission Board

Several years ago, Melanie found herself in a desperate situation. Homeless and struggling with substance abuse, she was pregnant and sleeping under a bridge in Oklahoma City. Life seemed hopeless. A newspaper article caught her eye, emphasizing the city of New Orleans struggling to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Desperate to rebuild her life as well, Melanie set out for New Orleans and on the path to a divine appointment with missionary Kay Bennett.
“Melanie contacted me and came into our transitional housing program,” said Bennett, a missionary with the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “She got a job, got into college and is working towards her social work degree now. She came to us because she knew she needed help, and we offered her the support she needed to succeed.”
Melanie is just one of hundreds of women that Bennett is reaching through her ministry at Baptist Friendship House in New Orleans as a LoveLoud missionary. LoveLoud is an emphasis – neighbors, communities, children – on meeting human needs while sharing Christ. With a motto to “meet needs through love, action and truth,” the Baptist Friendship House (baptistfriendshiphouse.org) exists to serve and support vulnerable women and children as they transition into new lives. The ministry offers housing to homeless women and children as well as life-skill training in areas ranging from literacy and computer skills to GED and college preparation.
“Most of the women who come into our transitional program are getting out of a bad situation,” Bennett says. “The important thing to realize is that these women often get stuck in vicious cycles of addiction or abuse, and if there’s not someone there to help them break the cycle they have a hard time breaking free. Through Baptist Friendship House I’m able to come alongside them and help them get out of the cycle for good.”

NAMB photo by Susan Whitley

Leading Bible studies and teaching budgeting skills are all part of the ministry provided by Baptist Friendship House in New Orleans. Kay Bennett, center, is a North American Mission Board Week of Prayer (March 3-10) missionary.

The annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 3-10, 2013, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®, provide support for Bennett and other missionaries like her who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists in North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year’s offering theme is “Whatever It Takes – Reaching the One.”
“For more than 20 years the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering has provided for my salary as a missionary here in New Orleans,” said Bennett. “I have not had to worry about raising funds to support me while I do the ministry that God has called me to do, and this allows me to totally focus on His work.”
In addition to the transitional housing program, Bennett and her team host numerous community outreach events throughout the year designed to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of their community. At the crux of Bennett’s ministry is a desire to reach the whole person, starting with their physical and emotional needs before ultimately seeking to see them spiritually transformed through the power of Christ. 
“We see people that come to us with deep needs, and many have never even heard who Jesus is. If I walk up to that person and start just quoting Scriptures without offering to help with their immediate needs, they’ll never hear it. When they come in and see us simply being Christ to them, that starts building a bridge to share the gospel and see life change happen.”
Bennett has been reaching the hearts of New Orleans through Baptist Friendship House for the last 15 years. Originally from Mississippi, she came to the city more than two decades ago to complete her masters of divinity degree at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She served as a missionary at the Brantley Baptist Center for nine years before taking on her current role at Baptist Friendship House in 1997. In her time of service, Bennett has developed a heart not just for the women and children of New Orleans but also for the city itself. 
“New Orleans is such a laid back city with something for everyone,” Bennett says. “If you’ve never fit in anywhere in your life, you would find a place to fit in New Orleans.”
However, Bennett recognizes that much of what the city is known for today are the things that give it a darker side. “There is certainly a heavier side to the city. Things like strip clubs, alcoholism, prostitution, they mark our city as well.”
Bennett is boldly ministering to the needs of those looking to be rescued from the darker side of the city. Her latest challenge? Fighting the rapidly growing battle against human trafficking that is dominating the United States and, in particular, the city of New Orleans.
“Human trafficking is the largest criminal industry in the world and the second largest in the United States,” Bennett states. “In New Orleans, we have a lot of prostitution, a lot of clubs on Bourbon Street and we’re located on I-10, the highest rated corridor for trafficking in the country. These things make it easy for vulnerable girls to be transported through the city and sold for sex.”
Through her ministry at Baptist Friendship House, Bennett is able to provide an alternative to those vulnerable to trafficking as well as direct those already victimized to safe havens in the city. “It is really easy for someone living in desperation to be lured into a trafficking situation and then held captive there. New Orleans is an attraction for runaways and runaways are attractive to traffickers. We are trying to intercept these vulnerable girls and bring them into our program before they get lost. If they’ve been trafficked and rescued, we’re able to work with local law enforcement to get them into a safe house.”
Though ministry like Bennett’s can seem risky at times, she believes she is exactly where she is supposed to be: on the frontlines combatting the problems that plague the women and children in the darkness of New Orleans. “In this work, I know I am in the center of God’s will,” Bennett says with assurance, “and there’s no safer place to be.”
For more information on Kay Bennett, visit anniearmstrong.com/kaybennett. For more information about how you can get involved in reaching New Orleans with the gospel, visit namb.net/NewOrleans.

2/18/2013 2:56:38 PM by Sara Shelton, North American Mission Board | with 0 comments

AT&T, Ernst & Young execs could face Scout challenge

February 18 2013 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

OKLAHOMA CITY – New leadership is needed for the Boy Scouts of America, a key Southern Baptist leader, Frank Page, said Thursday (Feb. 14) in Oklahoma City.
“I think it’s time for Scouting people across the nation to rise up and ask for a change in leadership in Scouting,” Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, told editors of state Baptist papers during their annual meeting.

“[W]e need Scouting executives with backbone,” Page said.

Page did not mention specific names. The chief executives of AT&T and Ernst & Young, however, have been proponents of changing Scout policy to permit openly gay Scout troop leaders and members.

“I don’t think the national leaders have listened carefully to the local people,” Page said, referring to the push within Scouting’s 64-member Executive Board to abandon the BSA’s male leadership/membership tradition.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson

“The local people are torn up over this,” Page said.
The Scouts’ Executive Board pulled back from adopting the policy change during a Feb. 6 session at the organization’s national headquarters in Irving, Texas. Instead, the Executive Board will place the issue before the May 22-24 meeting of Scouting’s 1,400-member National Council, encompassing Scout leaders from local and regional levels who will gather in Grapevine, Texas.

The proposed policy, which called for local Scout councils and troops to begin determining their own leadership and membership policies, generated heavy media attention as well as alarm among many churches with Scout troops.

While local Scout organizations could hold to “biblical standards of morality” under the proposed policy, Page noted that “as soon as those Scouts leave ... [for] a state or national camping event, national rules apply....
“At some point, the national policy shift will trump local automony,” Page said, and church-based Scout troops will forfeit their standards “when they move beyond the bounds of their local organization.”

Page made his comments during the Feb. 11-14 meeting of the Association of State Baptist Publications in Oklahoma City.

In conversations with national Scouting representatives prior to the BSA Executive Board’s recent meeting, they were “resolute to move forward with their change in policy,” Page said. “I think they’re hoping that the conservative furor will die down and they’ll move forward with that which they purposed in the first place.”

Asked what churches with Scout troops can do, Page said, “I’m encouraging churches to pray about their future involvement.... Pray about where God would lead you in this regard.”

Scouting’s chief executive, Wayne Brock, assumed the position last September and, according to a BSA news release in December, is a Southern Baptist. Brock has not issued a personal statement about the proposed policy, although the organization described it in a Feb. 4 news release issued at the outset of the BSA Executive Board’s three-day meeting. The move came just six months after the Scouts reaffirmed the current policy prohibiting openly gay leaders and members following a two-year review.

The two high-profile corporate executives on the Scouts’ Executive Board who have made clear their support of a policy change are Randall Stephenson of AT&T and James Turley of Ernst & Young.

Neither Stephenson nor Turley issued statements following the Executive Board’s reticence to move forward with the new policy, according to media reports. Stephenson, according to The Washington Post, is “on track to become president of the Scouts’ national board in 2014.”

Turley, in a statement in June 2012, stated, “Ernst & Young is proud to have such a strong record in LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] inclusiveness. As CEO, I know that having an inclusive culture produces the best results, is the right thing for our people and makes us a better organization. My experience has led me to believe that an inclusive environment is important throughout our society and I am proud to be a leader on this issue. I support the meaningful work of the Boy Scouts in preparing young people for adventure, leadership, learning and service, however the membership policy is not one I would personally endorse. As I have done in leading Ernst & Young to being a most inclusive organization, I intend to continue to work from within the BSA Board to actively encourage dialogue and sustainable progress.”

Last year AT&T and Ernst & Young each received a perfect score of 100 for their policies affirming homosexuality, according to a yearly ranking from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay group. An Ernst & Young employee, Bryan Parsons, sits on HRC’s Human Rights Campaign Business Council, which according to HRC, provides advice and counsel to HRC “on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workplace issues based on their business experience and knowledge.”

Page’s mid-February comments on the proposed change weren’t his first.

After the BSA Executive Board’s Feb. 6 decision to defer action on the proposed policy to the BSA National Council, Page stated, “While I wish they had put this to rest by voting to maintain their current policy, at least this gives all segments of the Scouting family an opportunity to express their views to the Scouting leadership. I urge all Bible-believing Christians to continue to pray that the Boy Scouts will hold fast to the biblical principles of morality and righteousness when they revisit this issue in May.”

In a segment on CNN on Feb. 6, Page said the issue is about discrimination and intolerance “toward a private group [BSA] who holds to biblical morality, which does reveal righteousness and unrighteousness. It’s about a systemic attempt to hurt, to change a private organization that holds to certain beliefs. That’s what this is about. It is about discrimination and intolerance toward those who hold a biblical morality. And it’s a sad day when we, they cannot express their beliefs and hold to them.”

Other Southern Baptist leaders have joined Page in publicly stating their dismay at the possible change in Boy Scout policy.

Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, stated after initial news reports on Scouting’s potential departure from its standards, “This is a tradition that so many of us across the country grew up in. We were in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in elementary school, and this organization has always stood for biblical principles – all the things that grounded our lives as a young kid growing up. To now see this organization that I thought stood on biblical principles about to give in to the politically correct thing is very disappointing.” Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, predicted that “a lot of [churches] will just pull out” if the policy is adopted.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, penned a letter to the Boy Scouts Jan. 31, asserting that changing the current policy defies common sense.

“[W]ith the admission of homosexual Scout leaders, the BSA would place men, who by their own definition are sexually attracted to men, in close, supervisory proximity to teenage boys…,” Land wrote. “[H]ow many parents would send their teenage daughters on camping trips with heterosexual male troop leaders? They would not…,” he wrote. “[T]hey realize that under such close, supervisory care of men who by definition are attracted to women, human tragedies could, and inevitably would, occur.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press (BP). BP associate editor Michael Foust contributed to this report.)
2/18/2013 2:40:01 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Congress joins calls to release Iranian pastor

February 18 2013 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Calls are intensifying for the U.S. to pressure Iran to free pastor Saeed Abedini, a U.S. citizen of Iranian descent who is being tortured in an Iranian prison and persecuted for his Christian faith.

More than 80 U.S. Congress members from both parties signed a Feb. 12 letter urging Secretary of State John Kerry to “exhaust every possible option to secure Mr. Abedini’s immediate release.”

The letter joins an online petition by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) urging President Obama, Kerry and Congress to “take all available diplomatic and legislative action to pressure Iran to respect religious freedom and release Pastor Saeed.” The petition had nearly 260,000 signatures as of Feb. 15.

“We know that international pressure works,” ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow and Matthew Clark, an ACLJ attorney, wrote on the group’s website. “We saw that with the case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was released for a second time earlier this year after being sentenced to execution for apostasy (converting to Christianity). His freedom is the direct result of immense international pressure.”

The ACLJ’s European arm has called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to intervene. The nonprofit ACLJ is representing Abedini’s family in the U.S., where his wife Naghmeh and mother of their two sons has expressed fears that she might not hear from Abedini for eight years, the length of his current sentence. Abedini has been held since September 2012 in the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran, where he is reportedly being tortured, beaten and psychologically abused.

In a closed trial, at times without Abedini or his attorney present, the 32-year-old Idaho pastor was convicted of charges stemming from his efforts of more than a decade ago to establish a home-based Christian ministry in Iran.

In the letter, 84 Congress members applauded Kerry for saying that Abedini’s imprisonment represents “a violation of the universal right of freedom of religion,” and said the case is particularly troubling in light of Abedini’s U.S. citizenship.

“Every American citizen traveling or living abroad should have the assurance that the U.S. government will come vigorously to his or her defense if they are unjustly detained or imprisoned,” the letter states. “We respectfully request that you continue to use every diplomatic avenue possible, in cooperation with our allies and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, to secure Mr. Abedini’s unconditional release and personally and publicly condemn his arbitrary detention in a statement.”

Sekulow, in an ACLJ press release, called the Congressional letter a significant bipartisan effort.

“This letter from a politically broad spectrum of members of Congress underscores the real issue here: the U.S. government must protect its citizens and exercise every diplomatic tool available to secure the freedom of Pastor Saeed.”

Abedini converted to Christianity 13 years ago while living in Iran and became an evangelist there, establishing home churches and orphanages to spread the gospel. After much persecution, he moved to the U.S. and gained citizenship, but returned frequently to the Islamic nation.

In July 2012, during Abedini’s ninth visit to Iran since 2009, Iranian authorities confiscated his passports, forcing him to remain in the county. Two months later, authorities arrested him on charges related to the Christian faith. He was placed in solitary confinement, beaten, and aggressively interrogated, according to news reports. His trial was held in January.

Naghmeh Abedini, in an interview with Asia Harvest, urged Christians to pray for her husband’s release.

“Our greatest source of strength and need is prayer. In all other ways, God will provide,” Asia Harvest quoted her as saying. “Saeed wants nothing more than God’s kingdom to come to the Middle East. If the church draws close to God in prayer during suffering, then there will be amazing blessing in revival. Prayer encourages the one in prison to endure suffering and to be a joy and a light to those around him.”

Calls for Abedini’s release come as Iran shows no signs of relenting in its persecution of Christians and their defenders. Pastor Benham Irani continues to languish in prison under a six-year sentence for “acting against the interests of national security,” according to International Christian Concern, a Washington advocacy group for the persecuted church.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Diana Chandler.)
2/18/2013 2:26:37 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Rainer sees positives for LifeWay through 2012-13 challenges

February 18 2013 by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – “I’ve never been more challenged, and I’ve never been more encouraged,” LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer told the Southern Baptist entity’s trustees during their semiannual meeting.

“God is working through us during what seems to be, by the world’s standards, an impossible time,” Rainer said in his report to the trustees during their Feb. 11-12 meeting at LifeWay’s headquarters in Nashville.

Overall, Rainer described 2012 as a positive step forward for LifeWay.

He also spoke of the challenges facing LifeWay in 2013 including the struggling economy, transition to the digital world, changing church practices, increasing regulations and the power of social media.

Challenge and optimism worked simultaneously throughout Rainer’s address as he reminded trustees Who is leading LifeWay. “Even in the toughest of times, God is in control of LifeWay,” he said.

During his president’s report, Rainer cited several areas of encouragement for LifeWay including the success of The Gospel Project; the positive trajectory of B&H Publishing Group; the turnaround that has begun in church resources; the relaunch of Bible Studies for Life, LifeWay’s largest curriculum line; the energy of LifeWay Christian Stores; and Ministry Grid, a new approach to discipleship and training.

“That LifeWay not only survives but thrives is a testimony to God’s power,” Rainer said.

During the meeting, trustees unanimously elected Tim Vineyard as the new vice president of the LifeWay Christian Stores division.

Photo by Russ Rankin

Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, reported challenges and opportunities to the entity’s board of trustees Feb. 11-12.

“Tim Vineyard is one of the most creative, idea-producing men I’ve ever known,” Rainer said. “It is a blessing of God to have someone who has a head and heart for retail already in our midst to take on this vital role.”

His commitment to the organization and passion for creating a spiritual oasis for customers within LifeWay stores was evident in Vineyard’s testimony to trustees.

“I believe the LifeWay stores division has built the best Christian retail chain in the nation,” Vineyard said. “I’m truly honored to lead this area. I will bring every bit of energy and passion I have to give my all for LifeWay.”

Trustees also re-elected the trustee board officers for another year including Adam Greenway, senior associate dean and assistant professor of evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as chairman; Mark Dance, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Conway, Ark., as vice chairman; and Rick Geist, a financial advisor and member of First Baptist Church in Seminole, Okla., as recording secretary.

LifeWay’s vice presidents gave reports regarding progress and plans for ministry advance.

– Executive Vice President Brad Waggoner briefed the trustees on LifeWay’s dynamic organizational culture. Waggoner noted cultural changes during his tenure that revolved around agility, teamwork, speed and collaboration. But, Waggoner said, “God is not only interested in the things we do but how we do them.” Waggoner then discussed Jesus’ example of humility and servant leadership from Philippians 2.

“Servant leadership fits into the biblical commands to live in unity, love, integrity and godliness. We are trying to model this here. It’s one of our goals for the culture of LifeWay,” he said.

– Jerry Rhyne, LifeWay’s CFO and vice president of the finance and business services division, was positive about LifeWay’s position in light of the struggling economy. Consumers “are depressed and uncertain,” Rhyne said. But “LifeWay has weathered the challenges very well. We have a lot to be thankful for.”

Rhyne reported a solid 2012 performance, with LifeWay revenues up more than $20 million over the previous year. Revenue for the beginning of 2013 “is a little bit soft; 7 percent below our plan,” he said. “But I expect that variance to improve through the year.”

– Jeff Rozell, acting vice president of LifeWay’s technology division, reported ending 2012 under budget – a savings passed on to other LifeWay divisions through reduced cost recovery. Rozell said the technology division has supported LifeWay’s major initiatives such as the launch of The Gospel Project and the upcoming Bible Studies for Life relaunch, as well as the launch of LifeWay’s ebook content platform in 2012.

– Selma Wilson, vice president of B&H Publishing Group, told trustees the division’s new branding line – Every Word Matters – is a reflection of their commitment to God’s Word and makes the B&H brand even stronger in a diluted marketplace. Wilson announced the release of “The Love Dare for Parents” by Stephen and Alex Kendrick; the launch of B&H Kids; and a partnership with the North American Mission Board to distribute 2.2 million New Testaments to churches for evangelism. Wilson said B&H continues to grow and is now the No. 3 Christian publisher in the market and continues to be the top Spanish Bible publisher in the world. The Spanish “Fisher of Men” Bible was the largest first run (200,000) in B&H history.

– Ed Stetzer, vice president of LifeWay Insights, broke from the normal report presentation and instead treated trustees to a live broadcast of The Exchange, a weekly webcast hosted by Stetzer. The webcast featured interviews with Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., and Pete Wilson, pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tenn. The two pastors talked about developing missional community through the small groups in their churches. They also talked about the Bible Studies for Life curriculum of which Floyd is the general editor and Wilson served on the advisory council.

– Tim Vineyard, vice president of LifeWay Christian Stores, praised retail employees for their continued focus on high customer service standards, successful transition efforts and ministry perspective. He highlighted a few local outreach efforts, such as Bible collections for prison inmates, Plush Doll donations for children’s hospitals and a store environment that allows employees to openly pray with customers. Vineyard reported several people accepted Christ last year while shopping in a LifeWay store.

– Eric Geiger, vice president of church resources, spent time unpacking the challenges churches face in training their leaders and then unveiled a new tool called Ministry Grid designed to help churches with training. “Ministry Grid is a tool churches can use to equip an army of leaders to do ministry,” he said. Geiger also told trustees about the overwhelming success of The Gospel Project with more than 40,000 small groups now using the curriculum. He also shared his excitement about the relaunch of Bible Studies for Life this fall.

“We are in 2013 attempting to do great things for God,” Rainer said. “As we step back and look at this interesting time, with so much social, political and economic change, we’ll say it’s a miracle of God that He has worked through us.”

In other business, LifeWay trustees:
  • Approved the governing documents for LifeWay Global, Inc., to be presented for approval by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee at their February meeting and later to be filed with the state of Tennessee. In August 2012, LifeWay’s board of trustees approved the formation of a for-profit company, LifeWay Global, Inc., to facilitate equipping efforts in China.
  • Recognized six trustees who are ending their board service in June. They include: Cliff Day, First Baptist Church in St. Clair, Mo.; Faye King, Dawson Street Baptist Church in Thomasville, Ga.; Cliff Knight, Lakeview Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.; David Love, Cornerstone Baptist Church in Lone Tree, Colo.; Frank Reeder, Northwood Baptist Church in North Charleston, S.C.; and Howard Zach, University Baptist Church in Fairbanks, Alaska.
  • Approved a change in the bylaws reflecting the change in name from the Executive Communications and Relations Committee and Executive Communications and Relations Division to LifeWay Insights Committee and LifeWay Insights Division.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Pipes is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources. Russ Rankin and Jon D. Wilke contributed to this article.)
2/18/2013 2:09:43 PM by Carol Pipes, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Six states seek to legalize assisted suicide

February 18 2013 by Angela Lu, World News Service

Six states – Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Kansas, Hawaii, and Massachusetts – are looking to pass bills legalizing assisted suicide, which has never made it through a legislature despite 122 attempts in 25 states.
Physician-assisted suicide is legal only in Oregon and Washington state, and in both cases the law passed through ballot measures. After assisted suicide became legal in Oregon in 1997, proponents expected a domino effect among other states, but it wasn’t until 11 years later that Washington joined in passing a similar law. 
Proponents say a 2009 court decision in Montana also allows for assisted suicide, but it only gives doctors who assist in a patient’s suicide a potential defense to prosecution for homicide. Yesterday a Montana Senate committee tabled a measure that would have legalized assisted suicide.
According to a 2011 Gallup poll, Americans were almost evenly divided on support for assisted suicide. Forty-eight percent said it was morally acceptable. But in Oregon and Washington, far fewer people actually choose to take an early out, given the chance.
Both states allow for assisted suicide when a patient has six months or less to live. But as with all prognoses, life expectancy for the terminally ill can be difficult to pin down.
Jeanette Hall of King City, Ore., supported assisted suicide, until she had the opportunity to take her own life. In a letter to the editor of Montana’s Ravalli Republic newspaper, Hall said she voted to legalize assisted suicide in her state in 1997. Three years later she was diagnosed with cancer and told she only had six months to a year to live. 
“I knew that our law had passed, but I didn’t know exactly how to go about doing it,” she wrote. “I did not want to suffer, and I did not want to do radiation.” She asked her doctor, Ken Stevens, to help her, but he encouraged her to “not give up,” and Hall decided to fight for her life.  
“It is now 12 years later,” she wrote. “If Stevens had believed in assisted suicide, I would be dead. I thank him and all my doctors for helping me choose ‘life with dignity.’ Assisted suicide should not be legal.”
Last year marked the highest number of assisted suicides in Oregon, with 77. The numbers have slowly increased over the years: 71 in 2011, 65 in 2010, and 59 in 2009.
The data found most of the terminally ill patients who took their own lives were 65 or older, white, well-educated, and had private health insurance. Seattle lawyer Margret Dore, the president of Choice is an Illusion, noted that people with these attributes are usually wealthy, which often leads to an increased risk of financial abuse and exploitation. Coupled with assisted suicide’s lack of oversight – healthcare providers were present in only 11 of the 77 deaths – it is possible some of the deaths could be attributed to relatives eager to get their inheritance. 
“Oregon’s law is written so as to allow such abuse to occur without anyone knowing,” Dore wrote in her blog. “The new report is statistically consistent with elder abuse.” 
Only two of the people who died by assisted suicide were referred for a psychiatric evaluation. Patients who are depressed or feeling hopeless can request an assisted suicide without any questions asked. 
Even the Oregonian recommended to Washington state not to pass the assisted-suicide measure in 2008. After 10 years of experience, the newspaper’s editorial board pointed out the physician-assisted suicide program had not been transparent, that “a coterie of insiders run the program, with a handful of doctors and others deciding what the public may know.”
“Our fundamental objection is the same it has always been – that it’s wrong to use physicians and pharmacists to hasten patients’ deaths,” the board said.
2/18/2013 2:04:24 PM by Angela Lu, World News Service | with 0 comments

Christians learn to tell ‘The Story’

February 15 2013 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

Because the amount of people who have a basic understanding of the Bible “is shrinking in America,” Jerry McCorkle said he began to explore a “new” way to share the Christian faith with all people.
The result is “The Story” (viewthestory.com), an evangelism and discipleship tool to help relay the overarching story of the Bible – creation, fall, rescue and restoration.
“What we’re trying to say is that Jesus is the reality,” said McCorkle, executive director of Spread Truth Ministries (spreadtruth.com) based in Bloomington, Ill. “We need to know this big story, and we need to craft it in such a way that it taps into the deepest desires of their heart.”
In August, there will be a two-day conference at Caraway Conference Center. “The Story: A Witness Training Conference” is set Aug. 16-17.
Several North Carolina Baptists have contributed to the materials, which are continuing to be developed, including the training manual, booklets, a recently released English Standard Version Bible based on “The Story” and applications for smartphones.
It’s not “The Story,” but “it’s God’s story,” said George Robinson, assistant professor of missions and evangelism at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest and contributor to the project. “I just feel like … it’s not the only way, [but] it’s a good way to re-center conversations on what matters the most.”
In the 18 years Alvin Reid has taught at Southeastern, he is “always thinking about effective ways to share the gospel in this culture.”
When in Jerusalem, during New Testament times, Paul was speaking to Jews who had an understanding of the scriptures, or the Old Testament. When he got to Mars Hill and Athens, Paul had to use a different approach. He started with creation. “We used to live in Jerusalem but America is now Athens,” Reid said.
This is evident by observing television, culture and music. “There’s a hunger for more,” he said. “There’s a hunger for truth. I believe we have to give people the whole panoramic view.”
Pairing evangelism with discipleship is key, Reid said. People need to see the Bible as more than a book of rules.
“The gospel is about knowing God,” he said. “I think the best way to share the gospel is to take them from where they are to the cross.”

Developing ‘The Story’

“The Story” started several years ago as a smaller tract called “More to Life,” McCorkle said. Spread Truth, a nondenominational ministry, plans a big mission push each summer taking groups from all over the country to New York to work on a variety of projects. As they went on this trip year after year they tried to use the usual evangelism tracts or training materials but many are based on a person’s knowledge of a basic biblical framework.

George Robinson took a screen shot of his personalized Story map for his account online. The booklets he has distributed have resulted in a people from all over the world coming online to see “The Story.” The evangelism/discipleship tool produced by Spread Truth Ministries is gaining ground because it encourages believers to meet people where they are and show them how they fit in God’s story.

Robinson happened to be in New York one year with another mission team he was leading, and he found an early Spread Truth tract. He had been developing something on his own that mirrored some of the same concepts.
“I couldn’t just say Jesus died for your sins,” Robinson said, because “they defined the narrative outside of scripture. I found I had to tell the whole story.”
Robinson began consulting with Spread Truth and Reid. It went from a small booklet to a training manual.
Individuals and churches can have a personalized web page to keep track of how many contacts have checked their particular Story page. There are also applications for Android and Apple smartphones to help with sharing “The Story.”
For a pastor, utilizing a church account will allow members to see how God is using members to witness to others. Robinson suggests using a Powerpoint to display the map showing where “The Story” has been shared.
In 2010, Robinson headed to Orlando for the annual meeting. He had just opened his personalized ‘Story’ account online. On the way down he shared the booklet with a person in Wilmington, Myrtle Beach, S.C., and a couple of other pit stops along the way. By the time he made it to Orlando, Robinson said all those people had used the web address given on “The Story” booklet.
At the Raleigh International Festival last year Robinson handed out 20 “The Story” booklets. By lunch the next day, 16 of the 20 people had visited his personalized site.
“It makes you want to share more,” he said. “The real challenge is day to day, recognizing the opportunities to share the story of the gospel in the context of this broader story.”
Robinson encourages believers to go to the same person to get a haircut or go into the same gas station to pay for your gas.
“Pay at the pump kills evangelism,” Robinson said. “We are in such a hurry, Christians are cutting themselves off from the world. We, of all people, should be winsome.”


Spreading ‘The Story’

When J.D. Greear of The Summit Church in Durham recorded a video with David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., about “The Story” materials, McCorkle said it went viral. A Tweet from Platt was shared at least 2,000 times.

“We were very fortunate that we were connected with key people,” McCorkle said.

At this point almost 600,000 booklets have been distributed in English, Spanish and German.
“‘The Story’ has really developed into something far beyond what we ever thought,” McCorkle said. “We’re actually characters in this drama. We’re actually living in ‘The Story.’”
This month, “The Story English Standard Version Bible” was released. Contributors from North Carolina include Robinson and Reid, along with Daniel Akin, Southeastern’s president; Greear; Jerome Gay, Vision Church, Raleigh; Tracy McKenzie, Southeastern; Tony Merida, Imago Dei Church and Southeastern; Benjamin Merkle, Southeastern; and Heath A. Thomas, Southeastern.
Part of sharing “The Story” is learning your part in it and how to tell that to others. “They’ll never really learn it until they craft it themselves,” McCorkle said.
Knowing the basic themes of creation, fall, rescue and restoration will help people engage others with the gospel, he said.
“They will really see that this gospel flows along a plotline,” McCorkle said. “You can draw a person into it if you share it in a narrative form. That’s how Jesus did it. The story of Jesus is the underlying reality to which all the other stories point.”
As with any materials, “The Story” is going through another revision to streamline the training manual to make it quicker to disseminate. McCorkle estimates the new version will be finished in April.

Teaching ‘The Story’

Both Robinson and Reid are using “The Story” materials to teach their students – pastors, youth leaders or other church staff, missionaries and lay volunteers – at Southeastern.
Before the 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Robinson took 24 students to participate in Crossover New Orleans, a ministry push leading up to the annual meeting. Those students saw more than 150 people come to faith using “The Story” training.
For information about the August training, contact evangelism@ncbaptist.org or (800) 395-5102, ext. 5563.
2/15/2013 2:29:22 PM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments

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