February 2014

Mental health motion addressed by EC

February 20 2014 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee has concurred with the spirit of a motion referred from the 2013 SBC annual meeting regarding mental health ministry.
In its Feb. 17-18 meeting in Nashville, the Executive Committee voted to amend an annual ministry report form it solicits from the SBC’s entities to include questions asking appropriate entities what they are doing to assist Southern Baptist churches in equipping and ministering to people with mental health challenges.
The Executive Committee also voted to “continue to seek ways to work in cooperation with SBC entities and others to address the severe challenges imposed by mental illness.”
SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page will name a volunteer advisory body of professionals in the mental health field to advise him on possible ways of better informing Southern Baptists about available mental health service providers and resources, the Executive Committee noted.
The Executive Committee was responding to a motion by Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, at last year’s annual meeting in Houston.
The original motion Floyd introduced asked “that the messengers of the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention ... request that the Executive Committee and the Bylaw 14 entities of the Southern Baptist Convention work in cooperation to assist our churches in the challenge of ministry to those suffering from mental health issues, and that each entity in their written annual ministry report inform the messengers what they have done, are doing, and will do annually to assist our churches in equipping and ministering to the people in our churches and communities who suffer with mental health challenges.”
Bylaw 14 of the SBC constitution names as entities the International and North American mission boards, LifeWay Christian Resources, GuideStone Financial Resources, the Ethics & Liberty Commission and the SBC’s six seminaries.
Separate from the motion, messengers to the 2013 SBC annual meeting approved a resolution on “Mental Health Concerns and the Heart of God,” affirming the “immeasurable value to God” of those with mental health concerns, committing to “affirm, support and share God’s love and redemption with those with mental health concerns” and opposing “all stigmatization and prejudice against those who are suffering from mental health concerns.”
The resolution calls for the SBC to support “the wise use of medical intervention for mental health concerns when appropriate” and to “support research and treatment of mental health concerns when undertaken in a manner consistent with a biblical worldview.”
The resolution affirms that “those in Christ cannot be separated from the eternal love of God that is in Christ Jesus” and asks Southern Baptists and their churches “to look for and create opportunities to love and minister to, and develop methods and resources to care for, those who struggle with mental health concerns and their families.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
2/20/2014 11:32:13 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Union grieves tragic loss of senior

February 20 2014 by Baptist Press

JACKSON, Tenn. – Union University students, faculty and staff continue to mourn the loss of Union student Olivia Greenlee.
Greenlee, 21, a senior music major, was found dead in her car Feb. 12 on Union’s campus in Jackson, Tenn., from an apparent gunshot wound. Jackson police later charged Greenlee’s fiance Charles Pittman, 21, a senior Christian ministries major, with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence in connection with Greenlee’s death.
“Many of us are baffled, in disbelief, sad, and grieving, yet grieving not without hope because of our faith and our confidence in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ,” David S. Dockery, Union’s president, said Feb. 14 during a special prayer service for Greenlee held on campus.
“The Bible tells us to weep with those who weep. And across campus this week, there have been plenty of tears.”
Todd Brady, vice president for university ministries, also spoke during the service.
“Reeling, staggering, speechless, grieving: These are words that describe us this week,” Brady said.
“We have not known what to pray for as we ought, and we have trusted that the Spirit has interceded for us with groanings that are too deep for words,” he said, invoking Romans 8:26.
On Feb. 15, Jackson police arrested Pittman in connection with Greenlee’s death. Police have not released a motive and say the investigation continues, according to a Jackson Sun report.
Following Pittman’s arrest, Dockery said in a statement that “this tragedy, involving two Union University commuter students, is incredibly devastating and saddening news.
“Understanding that an arrest is not the same thing as a conviction, we now need to let the judicial process run its course. Union University continues to cooperate with authorities.”
“During this difficult time, words motivated by hatred or judgment are not helpful to anyone,” Dockery said. “I want to encourage us to pray for all the families connected to this tragedy. Let us ask for God’s wisdom, comfort, help and mercy during the days and weeks to come.”
The funeral service for Greenlee was held Feb. 16 at her home church, First Baptist in Dyersburg, Tenn. She is the granddaughter of Joe Naylor, retired director of missions for Dyer Baptist Association, based in Dyersburg.
In addition to four Union counselors, the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s disaster relief team has sent counselors to help minister to the Union community and churches in the area touched by this tragedy, said Randy C. Davis, TBC executive director-treasurer.
“Since the tragic events of last Wednesday we’ve been in constant contact with leadership at Union,” Davis said.
“I’d like to ask our network of churches across Tennessee to join me in continuing to pray for the precious families affected by the tragic death of Olivia as well as Dr. Dockery, staff and faculty, and Union University students as they go through this time of deep grief and unimaginable sorrow,” Davis added.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Contributed to by Tennessee Baptist & Reflector, Union University and Baptist Press staff.)
2/20/2014 11:24:27 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New look to sbc.net launched

February 20 2014 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – A more visual redesign of sbc.net, the official website of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, has officially launched, Frank Page announced to committee members in Nashville.

Photo by Morris Abernathy
“SBC.net has a new look,” Frank Page told Executive Committee members Feb. 17 in Nashville as he pointed out new features of the sbc.net website. “We believe it’s going to be an excellent resource for our Convention.”

While the new website will feature much of the same information and resources that readers have logged on to the site to access, it also will include a variety of new visual updates, said Page, president of the Executive Committee. One of those updates includes a rotating slideshow of images and stories across the top of the site.
“SBC.net has a new look,” Page told committee members Feb. 17 as he pointed out new features of the site displayed on a video screen. “We believe it’s going to be an excellent resource for our convention.
“Everything that you’ve always seen and [that is] important will be on there,” he said.
Two of the most popular features of the site, he said, allow people to search for jobs in Baptist Life and for cooperating churches. The site also features a daily devotional and a newsfeed of Baptist Press stories.
“We want it to be a one-stop shop,” Page said.  “Anything you need to deal with SBC-wise will be on sbc.net.”
2/20/2014 11:14:09 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Page: hopeful for Cooperative Program uptick

February 19 2014 by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Southern Baptists face “challenging days” with Cooperative Program giving, Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, told committee members in Nashville, voicing hope for an upswing in giving.
While sharing his passion for CP and its role in supporting missions and ministry around the globe, Page said the momentum for the “1% CP Challenge” continues to grow for churches to increase CP giving by 1 percentage point of their budgets.
“I have written personal letters to almost 3,000 pastors thanking them for their involvement” in the 1% CP Challenge, Page said Feb. 17. “Our state executives are saying, ‘Frank, please don’t stop. Our people are just starting to get it….’ We won’t stop.
“It is my passion that fuels my heart belief in this,” Page said. “I supported this before I was paid to support this. As a pastor I strongly supported over 10 percent of our church’s undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program.”

BP Photo
Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, gives his report to committee members Feb. 18 in Nashville.

Giving through CP is the best way to “concurrently, consistently and, yes, completely fulfill Acts 1:8 as a church body,” he added. “Through that, you’re involved in missions and ministries all over the world, all the time.”
Philanthropic giving has increased in recent years, and 53 percent of churches say giving is up, Page reported. Despite increased giving in other areas, CP giving has continued to decrease through the years. In the last five years, CP gifts forwarded by churches have dropped 11 percent.
“In 1982, the average Southern Baptist church forwarded on 10.7 percent of its undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program,” Page said. “But in 2012 it was down to 5.41 percent. It’s pretty much declined two-tenths of a percent every year.”
One potential bright spot, Page said, is that the current 5.41 percent has held since 2012, a possible indicator the CP Challenge is beginning to resonate with more churches.
“We pray [the decrease has] ceased and will now tick back up,” Page said. “That’s our hope and prayer. We’ve been putting a lot of energy and effort, particularly trying to engage young ministers and unengaged ministers, to say, ‘We challenge you to study it, look at it….Can you find a better way to be involved in Acts 1:8?’”
Biblical stewardship is the key to reversing the downward trend of giving, Page said. To help, the Executive Committee is renewing efforts with state Baptist conventions to implement comprehensive plans for biblical stewardship.
“I’m going to push churches to do more, to give more,” Page said. “When I ask you to give more, it doesn’t come to the Executive Committee. We’re lowering our Cooperative Program allocation so when you hear me beating the drum and asking for more, it’s to go to these other entities and agencies to do that which God has called them to do.”
While CP giving numbers among churches have decreased, Page said state giving percentages have risen.
The average percentage of CP gifts forwarded to SBC causes from 33 state conventions has gone from 34.7 percent in 2001 to 38.2 percent, according to the latest figures. But because CP giving from churches has decreased, the dollar amount from states has only increased from $182 million in 2004 to $183 million in 2013.
State conventions also are streamlining staff. From 2000 to 2013, the number of state convention staff has dropped from 1,750 to 1,350, Page reported. Some conventions are becoming “extremely focused” to better meet the needs of churches, he added.
“Now some of them say we didn’t have a choice; we had to – the money quit coming in,” Page said. “But some have done this purposefully…. State conventions are trying to do that which they believe their churches are calling for and that’s to send more to the national level so that we might touch this lost world for Christ.”
While giving patterns and trends continue to fluctuate, Page said he will remain firm on his commitment to promoting the Cooperative Program.
“I know that church giving is different these days but I will not back away from what I believe is the best Acts 1:8 strategy that [Southern Baptists] ever had,” he said. “…I will tell you I’m excited about the unity that we’ve had in this body by the Spirit, a passion for reaching this world for Christ and I’m excited about it.”
In related news, Page announced that Ashley Clayton has been promoted from special assistant to the president with Cooperative Program and Stewardship to vice president for Cooperative Program and Stewardship Development. Look for a related BP story to be posted this week.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Shawn Hendricks is managing editor of Baptist Press.)
2/19/2014 12:39:50 PM by Shawn Hendricks, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

God has promised to sustain the righteous, Luter tells EC

February 19 2014 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – The Southern Baptist Convention will encounter affliction as it serves the Lord, but will complete its God-given mission because of the Lord’s promises, [Fred] Luter said in his presidential address to the SBC Executive Committee Feb. 17 in Nashville.
Using Psalm 34:19 as a text, referencing the Old Testament’s Job and adding humor with the fictional James Bond, Luter said the Lord not only brings tribulation to the righteous, but successfully brings the righteous through those same troubles.
“Many are the afflictions of the righteous,” the Scripture reads, “but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (NKJV).
“One of my favorite James Bond movies of all time was ‘Goldfinger.’ The guy had James Bond on this saw, and James Bond was about to get killed….And some way, somehow,  turned his watch, and his watch becomes a laser, and stopped the saw. And I said how does he do that?
“I finally found out how James Bond was able to get out of all that stuff,” Luter said, referencing a History Channel special on the making of James Bond movies. “You know how? It was written in the script that way.
“Southern Baptist Convention, the reason we’re going to make it in carrying out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment – it’s in the Script,” he said. “It’s in the Script.”

Photo by Morris Abernathy
“If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it,” summarizes Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter’s final address to the SBC Executive Committee at its Feb. 17-18 meeting in Nashville. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all,” he said, quoting Psalm 34:19 (NKJV).

The biblical script promises us deliverance from tribulation, Luter said.
“Your affliction is temporary. Your affliction is just for a specific time. Your affliction is just for a season. Your affliction is just for a reason. It’s only a test. It’s only a trial. It is the other side of ministry,” Luter said. “But always remember, if God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.”
In his expository sermon titled “The Other Side of Ministry,” Luter referenced David’s plight in Psalm 34.
“[David] is praising God. He’s glorifying God. He’s giving God all the glory, all the praise, all the honor. But just a few verses later, David is singing a different tune,” Luter said. “David has gone from divine preservation to human persecution. Many are the afflictions of the righteous. Brothers and sisters, such is the case of many of us, whether we want to admit it or not.
“So the question I want to ask tonight as I stand before you the last time  here in Nashville, Tenn., ‘How do we cope with that? How do we as church leaders, as pastors, as seminary professors, as entity heads, as pastors’ wives, as church leaders…how do we as church leaders handle the other side?’”
Luter offered answers in the life of Job found in the Bible.
“In one day Job lost his health, his wealth and his family. All of us one day, if we keep living, will face the other side of ministry. Listen, just because you’re born again, you’re not exempt from affliction,” Luter said.
“What in the world did Job do to deserve what he got? Job had no idea that he was being picked out to be picked on. God said, ‘Have you considered my servant Job?’ The devil never asked for Job. God recommended Job.”
Luter referenced a few saints God did not recommend, such as Moses, who committed murder; Noah, who got drunk; David, who committed adultery; and Solomon, who lived as a philanderer.
“If God suggested Job,” Luter said, “God knew Job would stand the test.
“The reason you can handle the other side of ministry is because of the promise to the afflicted. The last part of verse 19 says many are the afflictions of the righteous,” Luter said, “but, but, but the Lord delivers them out of them all – but the Lord; not the pastor, but the Lord; not the deacon, but the Lord; not the trustee, but the Lord.
“Ladies and gentlemen, sometimes we go through things that don’t make sense, but we’ve got to be able to stand. I don’t know why I’m going through what I’m going through; but this one thing I know, I know that my redeemer liveth, and He shall stand at the later day,” Luter said, referencing Job 19:25.
“The other side of ministry is the fact that you can do everything right. You can dot every ‘i,’ you can cross every ‘t,’ you can spell the words right, you can do everything right, and still face affliction.”
The sermon was Luter’s last presidential address scheduled for Nashville. He thanked those present for their support during his two presidential terms.
“I’ve made some mistakes ... but I’ve done my best to represent you well and I just thank God for your support. It has been an honor. It has been a joy and it has been a privilege to travel across this country and to preach,” Luter said. “I just want you to know that I’ve done all that I possibly can to represent my family, to represent my home church, to represent New Orleans, to represent the state of Louisiana, ... to represent the Southern Baptist Convention, but most of all to represent God.”
Luter said he visited an SBC church every week of his presidency, except during his ministry visits to such places as Ethiopia, Uganda and Israel.
“I’ve been encouraged in visiting these churches. I’ve been concerned about some of the churches that I’ve been to ... and some of the things I know we can do better. But most of all I’m hopeful for all the churches in this convention,” he said. “All of them have the opportunity to grow, to be the churches that God desires for us to be, the Great Commission churches that God desires and designs for us to be.
“We’ve got to continue to encourage them and to work with them, and to do all that we can. And particularly with the smaller churches. Many of them just need encouragement.”
Luter encouraged those present to persevere in ministry.
“Ministry is not easy. Ministry is difficult sometimes, and as a result of that many people just want to throw in the towel; they want to give up,” he said. “And so I just want to…encourage those of you who are on the Executive Committee and staff, our entity heads, our seminary presidents, our spouses in particular, and all of those who work with ministry, just a word of encouragement to you tonight.”

Luter is slated to deliver his last presidential address at the 2014 SBC annual meeting in Baltimore, June 10-11.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press general assignment writer/editor.)
2/19/2014 12:28:37 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

N. Korea brutality detailed in U.N. report

February 19 2014 by Baptist Press

GENEVA – A report detailing brutal crimes against humanity in North Korea was released by a United Nations commission that urged the international community to take responsibility for protecting the people there.
The fact that North Korea “has for decades pursued policies involving crimes that shock the conscience of humanity raises questions about the inadequacy of the response of the international community,” the report states.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, in its 400-page report and supporting documents released Feb. 17, cites “unspeakable atrocities” committed by the government against the North Korean people.
“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” the commission, established a year ago, said.
The findings are based on public testimonies from about 80 witnesses and more than 240 private interviews with victims and other witnesses. Though the international community has known of ongoing atrocities in North Korea, observers believe the vivid details conveyed in the new report should make a difference.
North Korea uses public executions and forced disappearances into political prison camps to terrorize its citizens into submission, the report states, noting between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners are estimated to be detained in four large camps.
“There is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association,” according to the report, described by The Washington Post as “a devastating read.”
Military spending is prioritized while vast numbers of North Koreans endure avoidable starvation, the commission found. Pregnant women who escape North Korea and then are found and forced to return are “regularly subjected to forced abortions, and babies born to repatriated women are often killed,” the document states.
If war or revolution breaks out in North Korea, the commission found, authorities there have been instructed – and drills have been held – to kill all prisoners and “eliminate any evidence.”
The commission urged all other nations not to forcibly return North Korean refugees to their home country. It also sent a letter to Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s dictator, notifying him that the case would be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Among the prisoners held in a labor camp is American Kenneth Bae, described in February by President Obama as “a Christian missionary who’s been held in North Korea for 15 months, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.” Bae suffers from chronic medical conditions including diabetes, cardiac problems and severe back pain.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach.)
2/19/2014 12:16:38 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

200,000 Hindi Bibles donated for Asia

February 19 2014 by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – LifeWay Christian Stores set a goal last fall of donating 100,000 Hindi language Bibles across South Asia, but customers gave enough for twice that many.
“LifeWay has proven once again it is an organization with a heart for the world,” Tom Elliff, president of the International Mission Board, said. “Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine The Thomas Project would be such an overwhelming success.”
Named for the disciple believed to have been the first Christian missionary to the region, The Thomas Project invited customers at LifeWay’s 186 stores to purchase a Bible for $5 to send to South Asia.
BP Photo
Considering similar initiatives in the past garnered considerably less, the original goal was a significant one for The Thomas Project, a joint venture with LifeWay Christian Stores, B&H Publishing and the IMB.
This time, however, customers resonated with the project, giving enough for 200,000 Bibles. Churches continued to donate even after the initiative ended in November, with one church donating enough to print 1,200 Bibles in January.
“We are indeed grateful for the opportunity to partner in ministry with our customers and the IMB through The Thomas Project,” Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said. “The response has been amazing, thanks to the Lord’s blessings and the tremendous generosity of our customers who truly have a compassion for the lost and confidence in the Word of God.”
Not only did LifeWay stores sell the Bibles, retail employees will help deliver them.
A LifeWay employee mission team will go to South Asia this spring to help IMB workers distribute the Bibles.
“It is especially gratifying that some of our own LifeWay employees will be joining workers in the field to help distribute the Bibles that are so desperately needed,” Tim Vineyard, vice president of LifeWay Christian Stores, said. “Our prayer will be that each Bible donated will have a life changing impact on the individuals who receive them.”
The mission team will visit locations strategically selected by the IMB and work through local church leaders and believers to distribute the Bibles. Additionally, they will be involved in direct evangelism and training.
Elliff expects the results of The Thomas Project in South Asia to continue defying expectations.
“God has honored the heart desire of both LifeWay and IMB to see the gospel penetrate the unengaged unreached people groups (UUPG) in South Asia,” Elliff said.
According to the IMB president, there were 413 UUPGs in South Asia last year and 20 of those groups had a population over 1 million.
“Today, the UUPGs with a population of more than 1 million has dropped to nine,” Elliff said. “We can only dream what will happen as these Hindi Bibles are distributed to the new believers and the lost as well.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)
2/19/2014 12:06:45 PM by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Uzbek law may outlaw Bible distribution

February 19 2014 by Baptist Press

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan – Uzbekistan’s government has officially granted itself sweeping control over religious materials in the central Asian country, in a move that may outlaw the distribution of Bibles.
According to Norway-based religious freedom watch organization Forum 18, Uzbek authorities had long maintained a de facto stranglehold on religious literature, films, recordings, websites and other materials, even without a law specifically authorizing such actions. With a new censorship decree, which came into force Jan. 27, the government now has a legal basis to control the production, distribution and import of all such materials.
The decree bans the distribution of religious materials anywhere except a fixed commercial point of sale with a cash register and it outlaws their importation without state permission. In addition, the decree criminalizes the storage, production or distribution of religious materials that encourage people to change their beliefs or that, in the state’s view, “distort” religious canons.
The law adds a new dimension to the stifling of religious freedom in Uzbekistan, which had already outlawed unregistered religious meetings under the 1998 Religion Law.
An independent legal expert from the capital city of Tashkent, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of government reprisals, told Forum 18 the new decree gives the State Religious Affairs Committee the right to conduct “unwarranted meddling in the internal affairs of officially registered religious communities.”
According to Forum 18, the decree’s ban on distributing religious materials outside of fixed sales points seems to prevent religious communities from giving out literature outside their legal addresses. The Tashkent legal expert told Forum 18 that even where religious materials can legally be distributed, the decree allow authorities to hinder such activity.
“This will allow the tax authorities to fully control distribution or sales of religious materials. They will at first force religious communities or believers to buy cash registers and later will systematically carry out control of their [cash register’s] serviceability,” as well as “control of procurement of religious materials,” the legal expert said.
The decree may even prevent the distribution of Bibles; since the Bible encourages people to leave their current belief system and embrace Christ, it seems to run afoul of the law’s prohibition against materials that encourage people to change their religious beliefs.
In addition, Forum 18 reported, the law technically makes it impossible to gain approval for the production of religious material. In order to get material approved, an advance copy must be submitted to the Religious Affairs Committee. However, producing a copy of religious literature without prior approval is illegal under the law.
“It is possible for the publisher or producer to be punished by the authorities for the production of an advance copy, especially if the Committee then bans it,” the Tashkent legal expert told Forum 18.
The decree appears to legalize the already-frequent confiscation of religious literature by customs authorities and makes it difficult to bring in religious books for personal use. Only three copies of a specific title are permitted, but they must first undergo “expert analysis” by the state authorities.
According to Forum 18, the law seems to specifically target materials brought back from Muslims returning from pilgrimage to Mecca, saying the government will “carry out control of religious materials during mass events of pilgrimage for the purpose of protecting the interests of Uzbekistan’s citizens.”
The law says that when religious materials are sent to the State Religious Affairs Committee for approval, the committee conducts a theological study of them with the help of experts, specialists and representatives from religious organizations. The committee then writes an opinion on whether the materials “contain deviation from or distortion of religious canons, which is necessary for permission of the production, import or distribution of those materials.”
Punishments for illegal activities regarding religious literature already include fines of up to 150 times the minimum monthly wage, with Forum 18 reporting that new punishments probably will be added to enforce the new Decree.
The decree is merely the latest salvo against religious freedom by the Uzbek government, according to Forum 18. In an August 2013 religious freedom survey on Uzbekistan, Forum 18 reported that all exercise of religious freedom or belief with others is illegal without state permission. Further, the government imposes strict limits on access to religious literature, including Bibles and Qurans to be read in private homes. The government also regularly tortures detainees, imposes bans on the religious activity and education of children, conducts trials lacking due legal process.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by John Evans, a writer in Houston.)
2/19/2014 11:54:39 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

After standoff, NC high school approves secular club

February 18 2014 by Kimberly Winston, Religion News Service

A North Carolina high school will allow the formation of a club for nonreligious students after a four-month standoff.
The Secular Student Alliance, a national organization for nonreligious college and high school students, announced Monday (Feb. 17), that lawyers for Pisgah High School in Canton, N.C., have said the school will permit freshman Kalei Wilson to establish a chapter of the group.

Photo courtesy of Cash Atheos
Freshman Kalei Wilson will establish a chapter of Secular Student Alliance at Pisgah High School in Canton, N.C.

“We are thrilled to see this victory for Kalei and all of the students at Pisgah High School!” said August E. Brunsman IV, executive director of the alliance. “We fight everyday to ensure students’ rights aren’t infringed upon, and are pleased with this response from Haywood County Schools.”
Wilson, 15, and her older brother, Ben, 17, asked school administrators for permission to start a club for nonreligious students in October. According to a letter of complaint sent to the school by the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, the students were repeatedly stalled and rebuffed.
Pisgah High School has several Christian-oriented extracurricular clubs and denying its nonreligious students made the school noncompliant with federal law requiring equal access.
Reached at school by text message, Kalei Wilson said she is excited to found the club and knows of about a dozen students who say they would like to join.
“To me it means change and improvement in the school,” she said. “I hope to teach them more about equality and the separation between church and state.”
(EDITOR'S NOTE – Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, USA Today, The Washington Post, The San Jose Mercury News and Newsweek.)

Related Stories:

N.C. school faces legal challenge for refusing secular club
Student reverses course on secular club, citing threats
2/18/2014 1:12:33 PM by Kimberly Winston, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Banks open for business with marijuana dealers

February 18 2014 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Banks can do business with marijuana dealers according to a new set of guidelines issued by the Obama administration that could be used to pressure Congress to change federal law regarding the drug, which has been legalized in several states.
Because marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug along with heroin, LSD and Ecstasy under the Controlled Substances Act, federal law prohibits banks from conducting business with marijuana sellers.
But the Obama administration, in separate advisories from the Treasury Department and the Justice Department Feb. 14, attempted to ease concerns about prosecution in states where the drug can be sold legally.
Twenty states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing the sale of medical marijuana, and Washington and Colorado also have legalized its recreational use. More states are considering loosening their laws.
Barrett Duke, a Southern Baptist ethicist, warned that banks should “steer clear of marijuana businesses for the sake of their communities as well as their livelihood.”
“Banks are crucial institutions in society. Through them, communities are able to obtain the funding they need to improve the lives of their residents. For banks to provide their services to the purveyors of marijuana runs contrary to this important function,” Duke, vice president for public policy at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press.
As a destructive drug, marijuana interferes with the spiritual, personal and professional wellbeing of those who use it and impacts their loved ones, Duke said.
“Banks would be good community partners if they refused to provide their services to those whose products hurt the communities they seek to help,” he said.
The new guidelines follow comments by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month, saying a public safety problem is created by forcing marijuana businesses to use cash only.
“Huge amounts of cash, substantial amounts of cash, just kind of lying around with no place for it to be appropriately deposited is something that would worry me from just a law enforcement perspective,” Holder said at the University of Virginia.
Under the guidelines, all transactions with marijuana dealers should be flagged “suspicious,” and banks will be required to report them. If banks believe the transactions are legal, they are to file them as “marijuana limited” transactions, and if they are suspected to be illegal, they are to give the “marijuana priority” label.
Following the guidelines is supposed to protect banks from prosecution under federal drug and money laundering statutes.
Bankers associations said the guidelines don’t go far enough because enforcement can change from administration to administration and only Congress can change federal law on marijuana.
Duke said banks are justified in their concerns about providing services to businesses that sell an illegal narcotic.
“The decision by the administration to allow them to provide these services should do little to comfort them,” Duke said. “Making the banks responsible for determining the reputable nature of these businesses creates a significant legal liability for them. At any moment, their decision could be questioned and the regulators would swoop in.
“Our country needs a more effective anti-drug policy, not surrender. I hope our churches will encourage the banks in their communities to uphold community values rather than chasing profits at the expense of their communities,” Duke said.
“Our communities need our churches to stand tall for biblical values and virtue. May their communities find them to be the strong supports they need to withstand the moral erosion they are facing.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press.)
2/18/2014 1:00:53 PM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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