February 2015

New Kendrick Brothers film focuses on prayer

February 23 2015 by Baptist Press staff

Kendrick Brothers Productions, the makers of the successful movies “Courageous” and “Fireproof,” have announced the Aug. 28 release of their latest film “War Room,” which will illustrate the power of prayer.
 
The film is brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick’s first production independent of Sherwood Pictures, the filmmaking ministry of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. The PG-rated, family friendly film will feature best-selling author and Bible teacher Priscilla Shirer in a leading role, and promises a cameo appearance from best-selling author and Bible teacher Beth Moore.
 
“This film is about the power of prayer, the necessity of prayer in our lives,” movie director and co-writer Alex Kendrick said in a promotional video posted at the movie’s website, WarRoomtheMovie.com. “If we return to prayer, passionately actively seeking the Lord, and we’re right with Him and right with each other, God can do amazing things in our lives.”

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The plot focuses on a couple, portrayed by Shirer and T.C. Stallings, who have all the trappings of perfect lives, but whose marriage is falling apart. They salvage their lives by learning to earnestly and fervently pray.
 
“Most of us have somewhat of a financial strategy, an education strategy for our children, maybe even a health strategy ... but when it comes to prayer, it’s a wish to the wind,” Stephen Kendrick said in the promotional video on the movie’s website. “If you look at the history of the church, the history of revivals, of great awakenings, it always was connected to people unifying and praying for the Lord to work in that situation. And that’s what we want to happen in our generation.”
 
Shirer; her father, best-selling author and pastor Tony Evans; Moore; and vice president of LifeWay Christian Resources Selma Wilson are all featured in the promotional video.
 
“[Prayer is] what opens up the floodgates for God to come down and be involved in our everyday circumstances,” Shirer said. Her father adds, “A lot of people don’t pray ‘cause they don’t believe it works. But unfortunately it doesn’t work because we don’t really pray.”
 
Jesus’ teachings on prayer in Matthew 6 are central to the movie, the brothers said.
 
“In Matthew 6 Jesus said when you pray, go into your inner room, in your secret place. We seek God first before going to war, if you will,” Alex Kendrick said. Adds his brother Stephen, “That verse in that passage is one of the keys to this movie. It’s really easy to make prayer an afterthought. We want people to begin to fight their battles in prayer first.”
 
Prayer is a weapon of war, Moore said.
 
“[God] has us fight not human flesh and blood, but fight the war that is in the heavenlies,” Moore said, “that can only happen from our knees.”
 
Wilson said there is power in prayer.
 
“If we can call the body of Christ to take seriously our conversations with God and we commit to pray, can you imagine what God can do in and through us,” she said. “There is nothing impossible for our God.”
 
Worldwide Distribution for Sony Pictures will release the film.
 
“We are pleased to be distributing the Kendrick Brothers’ next film, which will be the perfect programming for families seeking a wholesome and inspiring summer movie,” Rory Bruer, president of Worldwide Distribution for Sony Pictures, told Movieguide.com. “War Room is the ideal addition to our August slate, following in the footsteps of last year’s hit, Heaven is for Real, which had a $12 million budget and grossed more than $100 million.”
 
Courageous, the latest Kendrick Brothers production filmed for $2 million and released in 2011, grossed more than $34 million and was the top selling DVD in the U.S. It received an A+ Cinema Score rating from filmgoers and has led to a series of Bible study and discipleship tools.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press general assignment writer/ editor.)

2/23/2015 1:26:45 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



‘Inclusive’ Ala. church may be disfellowshipped

February 20 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The officers of an Alabama Baptist association have recommended that the association’s executive board withdraw fellowship from a church whose leaders have given their pastor freedom to perform same-sex weddings.
 
The Madison Baptist Association (MBA) in Huntsville said in a written statement released to Baptist Press that Weatherly Heights Baptist Church, also in Huntsville, is in violation of a section in the association’s bylaws that defines marriage as “a union between one man and one woman.”
 
Associational officers met with representatives of the congregation Feb. 17, prompted by media reports that Weatherly Heights’ volunteer, unpaid minister to the community, Ellin Jimmerson, intended to perform a same-sex wedding. The meeting led to a recommendation by the officers that the association’s executive board withdraw fellowship from Weatherly Heights at the board’s March 5 meeting.
 
Weatherly Heights – which describes itself on its website as “an inclusive, discovering fellowship” – confirmed Feb. 10 that Jimmerson had performed at least one same-sex wedding.
 
According to the Madison Association’s statement, “As the meeting between leaders progressed it became evident that there would be no agreement on this issue concerning same sex marriage, and that the Association’s Constitution & By-Laws, with relation to this issue, would not be adhered to. Thus, the General Officers of the Madison Baptist Association are making a recommendation to the Executive Board that Weatherly Heights Baptist Church be dismissed from membership in the Madison Baptist Association.”
 

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The Madison Association’s bylaws state, “Marriage is a union between one man and one woman, following biblical principles ... God sanctions only the union in marriage of a man to a woman.” The association’s constitution defines “the latest revision adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention” (SBC) of the Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) as the “Biblical doctrines which churches of this body hold in common.”
 
The BF&M defines marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime” and states that Christians should oppose “all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality and pornography.”
 
Weatherly Heights Pastor David Freeman called the meeting with Madison Association officers “cordial” and said in written comments to Baptist Press, “MBA representatives determined that my beliefs about homosexuality and same sex marriage fall outside the positions adopted in the association’s bylaws.”
 
Freeman added, “If our church is dismissed, I will be saddened. My Baptist roots run deep. My tent is big enough to include people who disagree with me on these issues. I hope their tent will be big enough to include me. If we are dismissed by the MBA, we have options for mission and ministry engagement with other Baptist bodies.”
 
In an email to the Weatherly Heights congregation following his meeting with associational leaders, Freeman speculated that the church will be disfellowshipped.
 
“I emphasized that our church has not formed a position on these matters,” Freeman wrote regarding homosexuality, according to WHNT news in Huntsville. “Members of our church are free to form their own positions. My positions are mine alone.”
 
Freeman argued in a 2013 sermon that “adult, loving, monogamous, same-sex relationships are not condemned in the Bible,” according to a printed version of the sermon on the church’s website. Freeman wrote in the Feb. 10 edition of Weatherly Heights’ newsletter that the congregation’s leaders had given him “the freedom to officiate a same sex marriage.”
 
In related news, Freeman said he has also “had a cordial conversation with [Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions Executive Director] Rick Lance.” The Alabama Baptist Convention has not taken any official action related to Weatherly Heights.
 
In a written statement Lance said, “We have full confidence in the leadership of the Madison Baptist Association, and we are assured that they are handling this situation in the proper biblical way. Our position is that any church that allows staff members to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples has demonstrated that they are no longer in like-minded fellowship and friendly cooperation with Alabama Baptists and Southern Baptists.
 
“We have publicly stated that this position, concerning the biblical definition of marriage between one man and one woman, is a non-negotiable basic belief among the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists,” Lance said.
 
The SBC has not taken action related to Weatherly Heights either. However, SBC Executive Committee Executive Vice President D. August Boto told BP regarding the Huntsville congregation, “Although such cases are rare, when they have happened, it has usually been the case that the various bodies in Southern Baptist life – including the association, state convention and SBC – have viewed the facts similarly and have taken similar courses of action. This is because most Southern Baptists generally do not differ on the authority of scripture.”
 
Boto added, “In such cases, when the national convention has examined the facts, it has considered the collective view of the entire church body more determinative than the view of any individual member, including the pastor.”
 
Article III of the SBC Constitution states, “Among churches not in cooperation with the Convention are churches which act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/20/2015 2:54:35 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments



SBC to vote on NAMB ministry amendment

February 20 2015 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Chaplain-led ministry near overseas military bases someday may become part of the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) church planting outreach if a proposed ministry amendment is approved during the June 16-17 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
 
The SBC Executive Committee (EC) approved a recommendation to be presented to messengers in Columbus, Ohio, to enable NAMB to “provide specialized, defined and agreed upon assistance to the International Mission Board (IMB) in assisting churches to plant churches for specific groups outside the United States and Canada.”
 
EC leaders said the possibility of military chaplains facing religious liberty constraints is a key factor for the recommendation, though the wording allows for other contingencies that may prompt NAMB-IMB overseas cooperation in the future.
 
Our culture “is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity and to the Christian message,” EC chairman Mike Routt said in response to several questions raised before EC members voted without opposition to forward the recommendation to messengers in June.
 
“There might come a day to where our chaplains can’t really preach the gospel,” Routt said. “How are you going to minister to these military bases overseas, to these military personnel if you can’t preach?

 
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BP Photo by Roger S. Oldham
Colorado pastor Mike Routt, chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.

“So these chaplains, on their own, not paid by the government but on their own, would plant a church close to that base so that they could have a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching church that our soldiers and their families could go to,” said Routt, lead pastor of Circle Drive Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, where the Air Force Academy and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) are located, along with two Air Force bases and one Army base.
 
“This is just to be proactive,” said Ben Kelley, chairman of the EC’s Cooperative Program Committee, in case military chaplains are “restricted in what they can do” in sharing the gospel.
 
Implementation, if it is ever needed, can proceed in cooperation with the IMB and in matching stateside churches with potential church plants near military installations, said Kelley, a healthcare executive from Montgomery, Ala.
 
Questions raised during the EC meeting included why the IMB couldn’t undertake church plants near military bases if need be.
 
Al Gilbert, NAMB’s vice president for evangelism, noted that the Executive Committee “approved the exact same language for the International Mission Board” in 2011 to enable the IMB to assist NAMB with unreached people groups in the U.S.
 
“Since that time, we have been working in agreement with them, defining special needs and agreeing upon ways they can assist...,” Gilbert said. The proposed ministry assignment amendment for NAMB, he said, is “an attempt to get consistent language for both of our boards to be able to cooperate globally for the Great Commission.”
 
The proposed amendment was approved by NAMB trustees in February 2014. The SBC’s Organization Manual requires that changes to ministry statements of the SBC’s entities be approved by the EC as well as a majority vote of messengers at an SBC annual meeting.
 
IMB President David Platt, in a Jan. 15 letter to EC President and CEO Frank Page, reported, “The leadership of IMB gladly affirms and supports this recommendation, as a step toward further cooperation between the two entities, for the sake of the spread of the gospel throughout the world.”
 
The proposed NAMB ministry amendment comes amid ongoing wariness among evangelicals of the military’s attitude toward religious expression within its ranks.
 
After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, NAMB adopted a policy stipulating that Southern Baptist-endorsed chaplains must not perform same-sex marriages nor provide counseling to same-sex couples. Rather, such individuals will be helped in finding other military chaplains willing to assist same-sex couples.
 
NAMB faced criticism from homosexual rights advocates but the policy has given Southern Baptist chaplains – to date – denominational backing for their convictions.
 
The NAMB guidelines also include explicit statements that Southern Baptist chaplains will practice ministry in light of the biblical definition of marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime,” as described in the SBC Baptist Faith and Message.
 
The guidelines also state that Southern Baptists view all sexual immorality as sin that violates God’s biblical standards for purity and that “responsible pastoral care will seek to offer repentance and forgiveness, help and healing, and restoration through the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial gift of love on the cross.”
 
Finally, Southern Baptist military chaplains are prohibited from participating in jointly-led worship services “with a chaplain, contractor or volunteer who personally practices a homosexual lifestyle or affirms a homosexual lifestyle or such conduct.”
 
NAMB guidelines acknowledge that Southern Baptist chaplains serve in a pluralistic setting but expect, under U.S. Department of Defense guidelines, that the rights and freedoms of chaplains will be protected so they may “preach, teach and counsel in accordance with the tenets of their denominational faith group and their own religious conscience” while treating all others with dignity, respect and Christ-like love.
 
Earlier in 2013, Kevin Ezell, NAMB’s president, and Russell Moore, then-president-elect of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, released a joint statement assessing several alleged encroachments on religious freedom within the military.
 
“We reject any and all attempts to sensationalize or misrepresent situations, in this or any other context. Having said that, we are concerned,” Ezell and Moore stated, noting that various issues seem to be “indicative of a troubling lack of respect for true religious diversity in our military.”
 
The statement included a detailed section about Department of Defense definition of terms like “evangelizing” and “proselytizing.”
 
“After all, who defines what is proselytizing and what is evangelism?” Ezell and Moore asked. “What could seem to be a friendly conversation about spiritual matters to one serviceperson could be perceived or deliberately mischaracterized as ‘proselytizing’ to the person on the receiving end. The fact that this has been raised at all in such a subjective fashion could have a chilling effect on service personnel sharing their faith at all.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.)

2/20/2015 2:47:37 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Court rules against florist for refusing gay wedding

February 20 2015 by Baptist Press staff

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will appeal a Washington state judge’s ruling against a 70-year-old Christian florist and grandmother who refused to provide flowers for a gay wedding.
 
Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., violated a gay couple’s constitutional rights and state laws, according to Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander Ekstrom, when Stutzman refused to provide flowers for the couple.
 
Ekstrom’s summary judgment Feb. 18 also stipulates that Stutzman must fulfill all future floral requests for wedding ceremonies that violate her Christian faith.
 
The judgment follows Ekstrom’s Jan. 7 ruling holding Stutzman personally liable for damages against the plaintiffs, as well as their attorney’s fees, putting Stutzman in danger of losing her business and personal holdings. Both the state of Washington and the gay couple, Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed, who have since married, sued Stutzman for the March 2013 incident.

 
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Screen capture from YouTube

In her defense, Stutzman had cited a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) resolution upholding the biblical model of marriage, according to the judge’s ruling.
 
“Stutzman has a firmly held religious belief, based on her adherence to the principles of her Christian faith, that marriage can only be between a man and a woman,” Ekstrom wrote in the factual background section of the ruling. “Specifically as part of the Southern Baptist tradition, Stutzman asserts that she is compelled to follow Resolutions of the Southern Baptist Convention Resolutions [sic] (hereinafter Resolutions of SBC). Those resolutions include both a definition of marriage that excludes same-sex marriage, and an explicit rejection of same-sex marriage as a civil right. As a result, Stutzman asserts that she cannot participate in a same-sex wedding.”
 
Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement to Baptist Press, “Let’s be clear about what this is. This grandmother is being threatened with the loss of her home and her savings, not because she was impeding anyone else’s freedom, but simply because she could not in good conscience participate in something she believes would be morally wrong for her to do. Such bullying is neither right nor American. It ought to signal to us, once again, how imperiled liberty of conscience is.”
 
ADF senior counsel Kristen Waggoner, one of Stutzman’s attorneys, termed the message of the rulings “unmistakable.”
 
“The government will bring about your personal and professional ruin if you don’t help celebrate same-sex marriage,” Waggoner said in a press release. “The two men had no problem getting the flowers they wanted. They received several offers for free flowers, and the marketplace gives them plenty of options. Laws that are supposed to prohibit discrimination might sound good, but the government has begun to use these laws to hurt people – to force them to conform and to silence and punish them if they don’t violate their religious beliefs on marriage.”
 
Ekstrom ruled that Stutzman violated the state’s Law Against Discrimination and its Consumer Protection Act by refusing to provide flowers for the ceremony. In the future, Stutzman must provide full wedding support for same-sex ceremonies, including the custom design of ceremony decorations, delivery to the wedding venue, attending the ceremony to touch up arrangements and assisting the wedding party.
 
Stutzman, who has said she considered Robert Ingersoll a friend, and had sold him flowers during his courtship with his current spouse, drew the line at providing flowers for his wedding. Instead, she referred him to another florist.
 
“America would be a better place if citizens respected each others’ differences and the government still protected the freedom to have those differences,” Stutzman said in the ADF press release. “Instead, the government is coming after me and everything I have just because I won’t live my life the way the state says I should. I just want the freedom to live and work faithfully and according to what God says about marriage without fear of punishment. Others have the freedom to say or not say what they want to about marriage, and that’s all I’m asking for as well.”
 
ADF legal counsel Jonathan Scruggs said the judge’s ruling violates the very law the court is charged to uphold.
 
“The court somehow concluded that forcing Barronelle to create expression against her will does not violate her free speech and free exercise rights under the state and federal constitutions,” Scruggs said. “To the contrary, this ruling ignores the pre-eminent civil right law of our nation – the First Amendment – and allows the state to force citizens to choose between conforming their beliefs to the state’s ideology and suffering severe consequences.”
 
In a 1996 resolution on homosexual marriage, the SBC resolved, among other statements, “... because any law, or any policy or regulation supporting a law, that legalizes homosexual marriage is and must be completely and thoroughly wicked according to God’s standards revealed in the Bible, we do most solemnly pledge our decision never to recognize the moral legitimacy of any such law, policy or regulation, and we affirm that, whatever the stakes (Dan. 3:17-18), we will never conform to or obey (Acts 4:19) anything required by any governing body to implement, impose or act upon any such law. So help us God.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)
 

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2/20/2015 2:32:06 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Family Christian Stores seeks bankruptcy protection

February 20 2015 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Family Christian Stores, the largest Christian retail chain, filed for bankruptcy, seeking to restructure so it can keep its more than 260 stores open.
 
Chuck Bengochea, president and CEO, said the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based company “took on too much debt” due to declining sales and was hit by the 2008-09 recession and the digital revolution that has changed the sales of books, movies and music.
 

“I wish that we had alternatives but we do not,” said Bengochea in a video released last week to explain the restructuring plans.
 

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On Feb. 17, Bankruptcy Court Judge John T. Gregg in Grand Rapids ruled that the company could continue to function during the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process using money it receives from its operations, said Senior Vice President Steve Biondo.
 
MLive Media Group reported that the chain, which has stores in 36 states, had $230 million in sales in 2014, down from $305 million in 2008. Publishers Weekly reported that the chain has “assets of between $50 million and $100 million and liabilities in the same range.” The magazine said creditors include prominent publishers such as HarperCollins Christian Publishing, which is owed $7.5 million.
 
The company said it does not plan to close any stores or lay off any of its more than 3,200 full- and part-time employees during the restructuring.
 
“We made the decision after much prayerful consideration and only after working to cut costs and taking other steps,” it said in a list of frequently asked questions posted online.
 
Added Bengochea in the video: “What we’re trying to do is get through the process quickly and make sure that we maximize the payment to our creditors.”
 
In 2012, Family Christian Stores was purchased by three businessmen and donated to the nonprofit Family Christian Ministries. Comparing the bankruptcy process to one used by airline and auto industries, the company hopes Gregg will approve its plan so a new subsidiary of Family Christian Ministries can acquire its stores and e-commerce site within 60 days.
 
Founded in the 1930s, Family Christian Stores owns two other companies: iDisciple, an app with sermons and music, and the Christian movie production company Giving Films. Those two companies operate independently of the chain of stores and are not part of the restructuring plans.
 
The closest competitor to Family Christian Stores is LifeWay Christian Stores, with more than 180 stores.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adelle M. Banks is production editor and a national correspondent at Religion News Service.)

2/20/2015 2:21:36 PM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



‘Fifty Shades’ casts shadow over Valentine’s weekend

February 19 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Record-breaking sales for the R-rated film “Fifty Shades of Grey” on its opening weekend should grieve Christians and encourage pastors to persevere in promoting God’s Word, Southern Baptists and others told Baptist Press.
 
The movie based on the best-selling book trilogy broke the box office record by more than 50 percent for Valentine’s Day viewings, bringing in $36.7 million in sales for the popular date night, and more than $85 million over the Thursday-Sunday weekend sales, according to the Box Office Mojo movie reporting service. Internationally, the R-rated movie earned $158 million, Box Office Mojo reported.
 
John Mark Yeats, associate professor of church history at Midwestern College of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press the numbers confirm “the ongoing pornification of the U.S. and the West.”
 
“From a ministry standpoint, this should confirm the startling rise of pornography consumption amongst both men and women, if those details were in question at all,” he said. “Historically, we need to be attentive to the close parallels between our age and that of the early church.
 
“During the first couple of centuries, any Christian living in an urban environment would have experienced an all-out assault on scriptural standards for morality. From sexual exploitation in public baths to sexual rituals as part of worship ceremonies in pagan temples, believers were assaulted with every form of temptation and visual stimuli,” Yeats said. “Yet the Christian’s firm grounding in the Word gave a stronger foundation to the family. Virtue became a clear defining principle of the early church. As the social units of the broader culture continued to collapse and struggle, the clear claims of the gospel stood in stark contrast. The church truly was a city on hill that couldn’t be hidden.”
 
Declining morality gives Christians ripe opportunity to proclaim the truth, he said, challenging pastors and teachers to promote the biblical truth of intimate relationships and to point out the dangers of pornography.
 
“But more important than creating a sermon series that plays off the success of the movie, we need to keep pointing broken people to the cross where our souls find ultimate fulfillment,” Yeats said. “We do that by preaching the Word of God week in and week out. Continue to call people to fix their eyes on Jesus and to follow God’s plan for living that is found in the Word.”
 
Using a description similar to the one Yeats shared, Nathan Finn termed the movie evidence of the “pornization of America.”
 
“Our culture is promoting a particular narrative about gender, marriage, and sexual fulfillment,” Finn, director of the Center for Spiritual Formation and Evangelical Spirituality at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said. “It’s a story as old as idolatry itself. As Christians, we need to counter the pornization of America, not by promoting kitschy Christian alternatives within our subculture, but by speaking prophetically to the surrounding culture.
 
“This means we must winsomely proclaim – and live out faithfully – an alternative narrative wherein gender, marriage and sexual fulfillment are rooted in God’s intentions as they are revealed to us in the scriptures.
 
“This will likely not be a popular narrative that wins us friends, but the gospel compels us to point others to a better way,” Finn said, “even as we recognize it will take a spectacular work of God to reverse the current direction our nation is heading in matters of gender and sexuality.”
 
Owen Strachan, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, said the movie’s success evidences “We’re in a septic age in moral terms. It glamorizes evil and sneers at holiness. But we have an apologetic opportunity larger than your local IMAX screen. We can show this age that gospel purity, not disordered promiscuity, is beautiful.”
 
“Fifty Shades is silly and demeaning,” Strachan said. “It will lead to suffering and sadness. The biblical vision of manhood and womanhood is glorious. When embraced by the Spirit’s power, it leads to the very throne-room of heaven.”
 
Only 32 percent of the movie’s audience over the weekend was male, and 42 percent of the audience was under the age of 25, according to exit polls by Universal Studios. While exit polls did not focus on religious beliefs, pornography addiction is prevalent among Christians, wrote Joel Owen, lead pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Kingsport, Tenn.
 
“Pornography isn’t something only people outside the church are struggling with. Christians have been impacted deeply by pornography’s pull,” he said in an article submitted to Baptist Press. “This information came from an article from The Center for Parent and Youth Understanding: research says that 50% of the men and 20% of the women in church pews are addicted to pornography,” he wrote, terming the statistics “Fifty Shades of Facts.”
 
Movie reviews noted the film contained about 20 minutes of sexual content. Many critics labeled the movie pornographic.
 
“Harvest USA defines pornography as ‘anything the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy,’“ Owen wrote. “It is anything that tempts and corrupts the human heart into desiring sensual pleasure in sinful ways.”
 
Donna Rice Hughes, CEO of the Internet safety and anti-porn group Enough is Enough, called the movie “Fifty Shades of Counterfeit.”
 
“Unfortunately, this Valentines season, Hollywood is pushing the cheap lust-filled counterfeit of genuine erotic love. Fifty Shades of Grey glamorizes sexual exploitation, bondage, degradation and sadomasochism,” she wrote on World Net Daily. She noted this goes against every woman’s desire to be “loved, cherished, adored, honored, protected, fought for, taken care of and if need be, rescued.”
 
Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, wrote that pornography normalizes the bizarre and “bizarrifies” the normal.
 
“If one were to create a pornographic website that featured average couples who had been married 20 years or more engaging in sex as the average married couple experiences it, who would watch it? And yet study after study has shown that the greatest satisfaction in romance comes to people in just that kind of a relationship,” Barber wrote on the Ethics and Religious Liberty’s Canon and Culture webpage.
 
“There is beauty there; our culture just doesn’t condition us to see it. What would we see if married men and women described their marriages to a sketch artist? What would we see if their friends described their marriages? When it comes to beauty, something about us has gone wrong.”
 
Although the movie drew record revenue on its opening weekend, the box office popularity isn’t expected to last. Now that Valentine’s Day weekend is over, Box Office Mojo predicted the movie will fizzle before earning $200 million.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

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2/19/2015 11:11:52 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



‘Stand,’ Floyd challenges SBC leaders

February 19 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) must stand for religious liberty and recruit congregations to the fold as God builds His church as promised in Matthew 16:18, SBC President Ronnie Floyd told the Executive Committee (EC) Feb. 16 in Nashville.
 
Unless Southern Baptists stand, Floyd said during his message at the EC’s semi-annual meeting, we will be as guilty as others who sat idle during unspeakable, historical atrocities against humanity.
 
“Our number one goal that should never ever be compromised is to penetrate and push back the lostness in this world,” he said, referencing reports of violent acts being carried out by ISIS terrorists.
 
“As followers of Jesus Christ, if we do not choose to stand right now and speak up and challenge our nation’s leaders – challenge our business leaders to stand up, challenge our churches to stand up, challenge our political leaders to stand up, challenge our state leaders to stand up and every person in America to decry this tragedy,” Floyd said, “we are just like those who turned their heads in World War II when six million Jews were being killed, or they turned their heads in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s when African American brothers and sisters and their churches were burned and persecuted and discriminated against all because of the color of their skin.

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Photo by Roger S. Oldham
Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd, in his address at the Feb. 16 - 17 meeting of the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville, encouraged Southern Baptist leaders to stand firm in proclaiming the Word as God builds His church.

 

“Those days were horrible, but prayerfully they’re past, past, past,” he said. “But we cannot turn our heads again.”
 
Floyd issued four challenges to Southern Baptists, drawing from the excitement of the denomination’s blessings already realized.

  • “How can you not be excited that we have one of the world’s largest providers of Christian products and services, including Bibles, Bible studies, research, church music and supplies, and digital services, plus having almost 200 Christian book stores in 28 states, and where ministry is happening right now in 120 countries of the world?

  • “How can you not get excited about knowing that we have an excellent and influential diversified Christian financial services provider, offering retirement, insurance, investment management, property and casualty coverage, and executive planning products and services to the SBC and even the wider evangelical Christian community, as well as coming alongside of pastors and or their widows at times who have very little at all, but offer them dignity to their last breath, loving and caring for them, all because of their service to Jesus and to the churches of America?

  • “How can you not be excited about knowing that our gifts from our churches through the Cooperative Program over the first four months that we’re ahead by right at 5 percent above what we gave a year ago?” Floyd asked.

  • “How can you not be excited, knowing that both of our missional offerings – both our national offering and our international mission offering – right now is above that [5 percent] compared to last year?” he asked.

He challenged Southern Baptist leaders to fully promote and participate in the 2015 annual meeting and its preliminary activities June 13-17 in Columbus, Ohio; to tell the story of Southern Baptists with conviction and clarity, and to encourage other like-minded congregations to become Southern Baptists.
 
“I believe strongly that our story is so strong in many ways presently, and our mission is becoming so clear that we are here to reach the world for Jesus Christ,” Floyd said, “I believe there are churches all over America who have an interest in becoming a part of our network of churches called Southern Baptists.

 
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Photo by Roger S. Oldham
Executive Committee members pray in concert with SBC President Ronnie Floyd for the convention’s June 16-17 annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio; for President Obama and other government leaders; and for children, women and men who are being slaughtered by ISIS terrorists in the Mideast.

“Perhaps some in our convention or beyond may think we will become smaller in years to come but we will be better. Perhaps so, but none of us really know,” said Floyd, now eight months into his presidency. “What if we begin to reach our goal of planting 1,500 churches annually for the next 10 years – and we can see it [since] we’re going 1,100 this year ... and what if we continually help our established churches in revitalization and we turn that death rate down just a little bit?”
 
Floyd encouraged the committee to remain Kingdom focused, referencing the SBC’s 170 years of service.
 
“Unquestionably, our singular focus in our establishment must still be our singular focus today, mobilizing all our people from our network of over 50,000 churches and church-type missions to give their lives, their futures and their resources for the purpose of eliciting, combining and directing the energies of the Baptist denomination of Christians for the propagation of the gospel,” he said. “From time to time in our 170-year history, we may have veered away from this path. But I submit to you today that I am committed more than ever before and believe that you join me in this unwavering commitment that we must do all we can with all we are and with all we have to elevate, enlighten and execute this singular focus more now than ever before in our generation. Herein, I stand. And I pray that you will stand with me.”
 
Prayer, one of Floyd’s priorities, was central to his address. He divided the gathering into groups of four, and led them in concerted prayer for persecuted Christians, President Obama and national leaders, and the Columbus annual meeting.
 
“Pray for our brothers and sisters globally, as well as those who do not know the Lord, who are facing brutality, abuse and murder; let’s ask God for this to cease, for a miracle to happen, and for leaders in the world [to] take decisive action now,” Floyd said. “Pray right now for the president and the nation’s leaders and the country in its need for God.”
 
He urged members to encourage God to bless the 2015 annual meeting, “to meet with us powerfully and to ignite us in an unprecedented way to reach the world for Christ.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/ editor. With reporting by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.)

2/19/2015 11:04:24 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Southeastern hosts annual Go Conference on the glory of God

February 19 2015 by SEBTS Communications

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) hosted its seventh annual collegiate conference on the theme “go for the glory of God.”
 
Approximately 620 students heard from featured speakers Daniel Akin, H.B. Charles Jr., J.D. Greear, Tony Merida and Russell Moore at the SEBTS campus on Feb. 6 and 7.
 
Breakout sessions gave attendees the opportunity to hear other SEBTS professors and local leaders speak on the glory of God in a variety of areas such as spiritual formation, suffering, seeking justice and vocation.
 
Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, reminded listeners from Acts 8 that the Holy Spirit is the source of a Christian’s strength and power. “The gospel goes forward faster through lay people than apostles,” Greear said. “Jesus has a prime spot for you in the starting lineup regardless of what your gifting is.”

 
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SEBTS Photo
Conference speakers (from right) Daniel Akin, H.B. Charles Jr., J.D. Greear, Tony Merida and Russell Moore at the SEBTS campus on Feb. 6 and 7.
 

Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said that “every Christian is embedded in the public square,” and each one should use his or her arena to manifest the glory of God, even if it seems “scandalous” to others at times.
 
Friday evening, a panel featuring several of the speakers offered personal insights into what it means to live faithfully for Christ in dating and marriage relationships.
 
Conference attendees received a sermon from Akin, president of SEBTS, on Ephesians 5:21-33 where he outlined a biblical view of marriage as between one man and one woman – “equal in essence and made in the image of God.”
 
“Marriage is a great gift from a glorious God that should point the world to Christ and the gospel,” Akin said.
 
Charles, pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, emphasized the glory of God in diversity from Ephesians 2:14-18.
 
“Jesus Christ is the only One who can bring peace with God, with self and with others,” Charles said. “To find peace, you must run to the cross and repent of your sins. The real issue that separates us is sin.”
 
Charles exhorted Christians to tear down walls of hostility. “Christ didn’t Christianize the Jews, or Judaize the Gentiles. He instead created an entirely new race,” he said.
 
Merida, one of the pastors of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh and associate professor of preaching at SEBTS, said “The ordinary people of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, armed with the Word of God, can accomplish the mission of God.”
 
“God saves people by sharing the gospel through ordinary people. Do you believe this?” he said. “You might be surprised who says yes when you preach the gospel.”
 
To view photos from the Go conference, go to flickr.com/southeastern.
 
To watch the messages online, go to multimedia.sebts.edu

2/19/2015 10:36:48 AM by SEBTS Communications | with 0 comments



Houston verdict leaves both sides claiming victory

February 18 2015 by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN

In a Feb. 13 verdict that left both sides claiming victory, a Houston jury handed down a decision in a lawsuit against the city and administrators for their dismissal of a petition by a coalition of pastors and civic leaders opposed to the city’s Equal Rights Ordinance. Though the jury – in a 10-2 verdict – found nearly 2,500 forgeries among the 54,000 voter signatures, they dismissed the city’s allegations of fraud.
 
With no definitive winner revealed by the verdict, the decision will not be finalized until 152nd District Court Judge Robert Schaffer issues his judgment. Schaffer, who was out of town and did not preside over the reading of the verdict, called a hearing in the case of Woodfill v. Parker for 9 a.m. Feb. 19. Attorneys for both parties did not know if the judge would rule on the case at that time.
 
Following the verdict lead defense attorney Geoffrey Harrison claimed the verdict as a win for the defense and Mayor Annise Parker, who championed the ordinance as a “personal” issue. Defendants in the lawsuit are Parker, former Houston City Attorney David Feldman, City Secretary Anna Russell and the City of Houston.
 
“If the court’s ruling follows the jury’s verdict this will be a complete and total vindication for the city,” Harrison told reporters following the verdict. “And the petition, which we declared failed back in August, will indeed be found, judicially, to have failed as well.”
 
But Andy Taylor, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said once Schaffer – and subsequent appellate courts – apply the law and legal precedent, any still-disqualified voter signatures could be ruled valid, breathing new life into the referendum.

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Photo by Bonnie Pritchett
Houston Mayor Annise Parker took the stand Feb. 2, called as an adverse witness by the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs’ attorney Andy Taylor put pages filled with thousands of disqualified voter signatures before the mayor as he questioned her about the definition of “signature.”

 

“We are very excited the jury vindicated us and found no fraud,” Taylor said, following Harrison’s remarks. “This jury was asked by this mayor to indict these hardworking citizens – these volunteer circulators – on the basis that they committed fraud. The jury found 13 out of 13 times no fraud was committed.”
 
Lead attorneys indicated the case will be appealed when Schaffer’s ruling finalizes the jury’s work. The case would then go to the First or Fourteenth District Court of Appeals in Houston. Taylor said he will ask the court for an expedited process in order to get the referendum on the November ballot should his clients prevail in court.
 
Opening arguments and testimony for Woodfill v. Parker began Jan. 27 and lasted seven days, with deliberations lasting an additional five days.
 
Juror Patsy Jenkins said the panel had a good working relationship and established criteria for answering each of the six questions with the 154 subsets. Their review produced a wide range of findings, which left observers unable to discern their significance at first glance.
 
Although charged with answering questions related to fraud, forgery, circulator identity and circulator oath validation requirements, jurors were not asked to render judgment on the ramifications of the city’s actions.
 
“We felt the people were not heard ... the true and genuine were not heard,” Jenkins said. Thousands of registered Houston voters signed the petition in anticipation of a November 2014 vote on the ordinance, but their signatures were dismissed for a host of reasons including the work of some unscrupulous circulators.
 
Jurors heard arguments over the definitions of “signature” and “subscribe” as they related to the city’s dismissal of all but 3,905 of the 54,000 signatures on a petition to repeal the Equal Rights Ordinance passed last May, which included sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classifications. Those taking the witness stand included Feldman, Parker, pastors, church employees and petition circulators.
 
Plaintiffs argued the city used a subjective standard for dismissing voter signatures while defense attorneys charged that the petition was riddled with fraud and forgeries and, ultimately, did not comply with city code.
 
The lawsuit’s three plaintiffs included Jared Woodfill, former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, and F.M. Williams and Max Miller, African-American pastors and community leaders. They represented the racially and politically diverse coalition of church and civic leaders who fought for nearly a year to halt the passage and implementation of the Equal Rights Ordinance.
 
The plaintiffs’ first witness, Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastors Council, testified for more than five hours, mostly on cross examination by Harrison, one of more than a dozen private and municipal attorneys providing the defense.
 
Welch testified that he drafted the referendum petition page drawing the format from an example given on a website linked to the official City of Houston website. But in doing so he eliminated what appeared to be an errant line in the form.
 
That line, defense said, was essential to the form’s compliance with the Houston City Charter. Without it there was no place for petition circulators to sign the oath, or affidavit, at the bottom of the page. No signature; no oath; no valid petition pages, they argued.
 
But Taylor said the online affidavit did have a place for the circulator to write their names. And since the oaths were witnessed and validated by notary publics – a representative of the State of Texas – the circulators’ signatures should be accepted as presented on the form.
 
Initial dismissal of the voter signatures in August was based on illegibility, printing of circulator signatures versus cursive, and the identity of the circulators, among other issues. The dismissal gave petition organizers – calling themselves the No UNequal Rights Coalition – only 15,249 of the 17,269 necessary signatures to force a second vote on the ordinance by city council.
 
The coalition sued, and the signature line became the main point of contention for the defense during the course of the investigation and trial. By Jan. 26, the day of jury selection, the number of valid signatures had shrunk to 3,905.
 
The jury, with the exception of Jenkins and a second juror, ruled in the city’s favor when analyzing the petition pages of 98 circulators. They blamed Welch, who created the form, for not checking other resources to ensure the accuracy of the document. But they also faulted the city for its publication of a petition form that lacked a definitive signature line.
 
Throughout the trial Taylor claimed Parker and Feldman (who resigned in December) spent more time and resources trying to disqualify voter signatures than seeking signature confirmation. African-American plaintiffs and their supporters, many of whom worked in the civil rights movement, claimed the situation seemed all too familiar. The rights of the voters had been quashed.
 
But Harrison repeatedly said the issue was about the rule of law and compliance with the Houston City Charter.
 
“Thousands of signatures on this petition are not just highly suspect but clearly not genuine and show evidence of forgery and fraud,” Harrison said.
 
Parker, whom the plaintiffs’ attorney called as an “adverse witness,” concurred and challenged Taylor’s analysis of the signatures.
 
“There are lots of different ways to analyze the petition,” Parker said from the stand Feb. 2. But, she continued, “it doesn’t matter if you miss [the goal] by 2,000 signatures or two. The law is the law.”
 
“But if someone doesn’t get counted,” Taylor countered,” it might matter to them – a lot.”
 
When plaintiffs rested their case later that day, the defense called former city attorney Feldman as their first witness. He told the jury he did not initially press the issue of the petition format that would eventually nullify the vast majority of voter signatures because the referendum had failed. It wasn’t until the lawsuit was filed that city attorneys began scrutinizing the affidavit portion of the form with its missing signature line.
 
“[The referendum process] was designed to keep people from signing as someone they weren’t,” Feldman said in defending his actions.
 
Seeking to illustrate their allegations of forgery and fraud the defense called a handwriting expert, Janet Masson, to cull through the petition pages. Her review revealed about 2,355 “irregularities” throughout the 5,199 pages of signatures. The jury counted those “irregularities” among the forgeries.
 
But Taylor said the city’s validation standard was inconsistent throughout the investigation and, therefore, unjust. He held the defense to the city’s December analysis of signatures documented as a “final” count. According to that analysis there were 15,972 valid signatures, just 1,297 shy of the requisite number for the referendum.
 
But the defense consistently argued the “final” count had a footnote stating more pages could be invalidated.
 
Taylor accused the city of moving the goals, making compliance with the rules impossible. He told jurors they were the plaintiffs’ only recourse in the fight against city hall.
 
He illustrated the point during closing arguments by tossing file after file of the thousands of invalidated signature pages onto the floor. With each bundle of pages, Taylor said, “You don’t count. You don’t count. They don’t count.”
 
“These aren’t signatures,” he told the jurors. “These are people trying to validate their right to petition the government.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

2/18/2015 6:12:04 PM by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments



More Ala. counties OK gay marriage

February 18 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Following a week of tumult in Alabama concerning gay marriage, most of the state’s counties are now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But the chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court continues to argue that state judges who issue marriage licenses are not bound by the federal court ruling that declared Alabama’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional.
 
Meanwhile, two leaders of the Alabama Baptist State Convention have issued a statement affirming the biblical definition of marriage and noting that churches whose staff officiate same-sex weddings are not in “friendly cooperation” with the state convention.
 
Fifty of Alabama’s 67 counties had decided to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as of Feb. 13, the New York Times reported. That marked a significant increase from Feb. 9, when as many as 44 counties said they would not issue licenses to same-sex couples despite the federal court ruling, according to USA Today.
 
The shift in marriage license practices came after Federal District Judge Callie V.S. Granade ruled Feb. 12 that Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis had to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Probate judges are the state officials responsible for issuing marriage licenses.

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BP Photo
People gather outside the Alabama State House in Montgomery Feb. 6 for a prayer rally organized by Alabama Citizens Action Progsram following the recent ruling regarding same-sex marriage.
 

Granade, the same judge who originally struck down Alabama’s gay marriage ban Jan. 23, wrote that Davis was causing a “substantial threat” of “irreparable injury” to four same-sex couples by not granting them marriage licenses. The homosexual couples at issue were concerned about being denied the ability to make medical decisions for one another and being denied parental rights, Granade wrote.
 
“If Plaintiffs take all steps that are required in the normal course of business as a prerequisite to issuing a marriage license to opposite-sex couples, Judge Davis may not deny them a license on the ground that Plaintiffs constitute same-sex couples or because it is prohibited by the Sanctity of Marriage Amendment and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act or by any other Alabama law or Order pertaining to same-sex marriage,” Granade wrote.

But Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, said Feb. 15 on Fox News Sunday that Granade’s ruling is only “law of the case before her” and not an action “overturning the Alabama Constitution.”
 
“Federal law is not made by judges,” Moore said. “That’s something very basic. ... Those interpretations are not law. If they were, then the legislature would have no role. Legislatures are to make law. Congress is to make law. The United States ... Constitution is law. So is [the] Alabama Constitution. We have a fundamental misunderstanding in our country that federal courts by their mere utterance make law. They do not, sir. They make law of the case, applicable to the parties before them.”
 
Two Alabama probate judges told the Chattanoogan Feb. 10 that they would not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
 
“I’m not going to be a party to it,” Fred Hamic, probate judge in Geneva County in Southeast Alabama, said of same-sex marriage. “I was raised in a Christian home and was taught it is a sin.”
 
Nick Williams, probate judge in Washington County north of Mobile, said he would not issue gay marriage licenses either, adding, “I’m not worried about following the U.S. Constitution.”
Granade stayed her original ruling legalizing gay marriage statewide until Feb. 9 while the appeals process moved forward. Both the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to extend the stay.
 
Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented from the decision not to grant an additional stay, with Thomas writing that the decision “may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution” of the gay marriage issue.
 
The Alabama Supreme Court agreed Feb. 13 to consider a request by conservative groups to stop same-sex marriage in the state, WVTV in Birmingham reported.
 
In response to the unfolding marriage situation, Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, and state convention president Travis Coleman Jr. issued a statement posted on Lance’s blog Feb. 10.
 
“Alabama Baptists strongly support traditional marriage between one man and one woman only. We do not believe any other form of marriage is biblically sanctioned,” Lance and Coleman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Prattville, said. “Our State Board of Missions has recently adopted a ‘Resolution on the Reaffirmation of Biblical Marriage,’ which reflects a strong consensus among Alabama Baptists. This belief has been faithfully taught and proclaimed by our churches and reflected in resolutions from our annual State Convention meetings and national Southern Baptist Convention meetings as well.
 
“The vast and overwhelming majority of Alabama Baptist leaders and other church members continue to affirm the biblical view of marriage and the historic declarations that Alabama Baptists have made concerning the marriage relationship. Therefore, any church that allows staff members to officiate at same-sex ceremonies is clearly outside biblical teachings about marriage and human sexuality, and they demonstrate that they are not in like-minded fellowship or friendly cooperation with Alabama Baptists and Southern Baptists,” Lance and Coleman said.
 
A volunteer minister at one church that cooperates with the Alabama Baptist State Convention has performed a same-sex wedding.
 
Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville confirmed to Baptist Press Feb. 10 that Ellin Jimmerson, minister to the community and a church member, had performed at least one same-sex wedding, but not on the church’s property.
 
Weatherly Heights Pastor David Freeman wrote in the church’s newsletter Feb. 10 that he declined one request to officiate a gay wedding because the couple’s “expectations did not align with my own.” But he added that a group of the congregation’s leaders had given him “the freedom to officiate a same sex marriage.”
 
“Since our church has not embraced a position on this issue, they felt like the service should not be done in our church or in our church’s name,” Freeman wrote. “It could be done in a home, wedding chapel, or another off campus location. I would be functioning as a Minister of the gospel.”
 
Charlie Howell, director of missions for the Madison Baptist Association, with which Weatherly Heights cooperates, told the Huntsville Times that a meeting is scheduled the week of Feb. 16 between associational leaders and representatives of Weatherly Heights.
 
“We’re Baptists, so that means that each church is autonomous,” Howell told the Times. “There’s a lot of freedom there, but that doesn’t mean anything goes. Our churches agree to cooperate and to serve together in unity, so this is not pleasant, what we’re dealing with here. We’re not going to back off the truth. The truth has got to prevail. And this is not just about one woman or one preacher. This teaching runs pretty deep down there [at Weatherly].”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)


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Ala. Judges: no marriage licenses for gay couples
Same-sex marriage now legal in Ala.

2/18/2015 5:55:55 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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