February 2015

Obama seeks approval for forces against ISIS

February 13 2015 by Baptist Press staff

President Obama’s request for congressional authorization for limited use of American armed forces to defeat an Islamic terrorist army came as new reports pulled the curtain back further on the horrifying magnitude of the atrocities in Iraq and Syria.
 
Southern Baptist ethicists, meanwhile, described military action as justified to thwart the terrorists’ widespread campaign against Christians, Yazidis and other religious and ethnic minorities, as well as moderate Muslims.
 
The president sent Congress Feb. 11 a proposed resolution to authorize the use of the United States military to thwart a push by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to establish a militant Muslim regime in the Middle East. ISIS also has threatened attacks on the United States. The Sunni Muslim terrorists that largely make up ISIS, also known as ISIL, have executed, driven from their homes, abducted, tortured, enslaved or forced into marriages hundreds of thousands of people.
 
Recent reports or testimony about the ISIS campaign of terror showed:

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IMB photo by Will Stuart

  • Minorities in Iraq are on “the edge of extinction” as a result of ISIS’ religious and ethnic cleansing, according to a Feb. 11 report by the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, a new Christian human rights organization.

  • Minority children are being systematically killed and sexually exploited and enslaved by ISIS, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child reported Feb. 4.

  • About 20,000 foreign fighters from around the world have joined ISIS and its allies in Iraq and Syria, according to Feb. 11 congressional testimony by Nick Rasmussen, head of the federal government's National Counterterrorism Center, the Associated Press reported.

Matthew Arbo, a Southern Baptist ethicist, pointed to the plight of the victims of ISIS as a basis for authorizing the involvement of American armed forces.
 
“To the extent that one of our rationales is intervening on behalf of (moderate) Iraqis and other ethnic minorities, then military action would be justified, provided, that is, some reasonable scope is applied to execution of the war plan,” said Arbo, assistant professor of theological studies at Oklahoma Baptist University and a Christian ethics fellow with the Research Institute of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
 
The president’s proposal “was a necessary step in the right direction,” Arbo told Baptist Press in written comments.
 
If Congress authorizes military action, Christians should hold the Obama administration to these rules in war – “discrimination and proportion,” he said.
 
“All attacks must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants, and weaponry should be used as proportionately as possible,” Arbo said. “Then, in the future, when campaigns are closing, we should keep fully to the rules after war and help rebuild the nations impacted.”
 
Russell Moore, the ERLC's president, continued to stand by an open letter he signed in August after Obama authorized without congressional approval military airstrikes against ISIS. The letter – initiated by Robert George, professor at Princeton University and vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – commended the president’s authorization of airstrikes but contended the United States and other countries should do more to protect minorities from ISIS.
 
George, Moore and the other signers called for the United States to increase airstrikes against ISIS. They also urged the American government to supply air support, as well as weapons and intelligence, for those fighting the Islamic militants.
 
“No options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table,” George, Moore and others said in the letter. “We further believe that the United States’ goal must be more comprehensive than simply clamping a short-term lid on the boiling violence that is threatening so many innocents in ISIS/ISIL’s path. Nothing short of the destruction of ISIS/ISIL as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims.”
 
Obama's proposed Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) enables him to use American forces as he deems necessary against ISIS “or associated persons or forces” but does not permit “enduring offensive ground combat operations.” The authorization concludes after three years unless it is reauthorized. It requires the president to provide a report to Congress at least each six months on actions taken under the authorization.
 
In a letter that accompanied the draft authorization, Obama said the proposal “would not authorize long-term, large-scale ground combat operations” like those in Iraq and Afghanistan in the previous decade. While local forces should be the ones involved in such actions, his proposal would empower U.S. ground efforts in “more limited circumstances.” Among examples of such occasions the president cited were rescue operations, the use of special ops forces against ISIS leaders and the collection of intelligence.
 
The new AUMF would rescind the 2002 resolution that authorized military action against Iraq.
Members of both parties quickly signaled the president’s draft authorization has its skeptics in Congress. Republican leaders promised thorough hearings regarding the president’s request and expressed concerns it might be too restrictive on leaders of the military effort.
 
“Any authorization for the use of military force must give our military commanders the flexibility and authorities they need to succeed and protect our people” Speaker of the House John Boehner said in a written statement. “While I believe an AUMF against [ISIS] is important, I have concerns that the president’s request does not meet this standard.”
 
Many Democrats voiced fear Obama’s draft could lead to expanded ground action for the U.S. military, The Washington Post reported.
 
The president’s authorization request followed by a day the confirmation of the death of American aid worker Kayla Mueller, at least the fifth United States citizen to be killed while in ISIS’ custody.
 
The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child reported the following atrocities among its concerns regarding children affected by ISIS’ terrorism:

  • The killing of minority children, including “several cases of mass executions of boys, as well as reports of beheadings, crucifixion of children and burying children alive;”

  • The abduction of many children, who have witnessed the murder of their parents and become victims of sexual and physical assault;

  • The “sexual enslavement” of children, especially from minorities, that includes “markets” in which ISIS puts price tags on children and women for sale and temporary prisons in which children are sex slaves.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R.-Texas, chairman of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, greeted Feb. 11 the report of the 20,000-person influx into Iraq and Syria to fight with ISIS the “largest convergence of Islamist terrorists in world history.” The flow of foreign fighters in and out of the Middle East has raised concerns about a global increase in terrorist acts.
 
(EDITOR'S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
 

Related Stories:

Poll: 1 in 4 Americans say Islamic State represents true Islam
Fear of Islamic terrorism on the rise

2/13/2015 2:55:18 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Moore: SCOTUS will ‘probably’ OK gay marriage

February 13 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court likely will legalize gay marriage nationwide, labeling it a constitutional right under the 14th Amendment, Southern Baptists’ lead ethicist told state convention executives and Baptist state paper editors Feb. 11.
 
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas was “probably right” in his apparent prediction that the Supreme Court’s recent denial of a stay to halt legalized same-sex marriage in Alabama “is a signal of what the court intends to do,” Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said at a meeting in Orange Beach, Ala. “... I think we do see the court moving toward handing down a decision that would place same-sex marriage as a 14th Amendment issue.”
 
The 14th Amendment mandates that a state not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
 
Alabama had asked the high court to delay enforcement of a federal judge’s ruling striking down the state’s ban of same-sex marriage until the Supreme Court rules on the issue nationwide. Seven justices agreed to deny the stay, but Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented.

 
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“When courts declare state laws unconstitutional and enjoin state officials from enforcing them, our ordinary practice is to suspend those injunctions from taking effect pending appellate review,” Thomas wrote. “... Yet rather than treat like applicants alike, the Court looks the other way as yet another Federal District Judge casts aside state laws without making any effort to preserve the status quo pending the Court’s resolution of a constitutional question it left open” in a 2013 ruling. The ruling struck down a federal definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman but stopped short of legalizing gay marriage nationwide.
 
Thomas concluded, “This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question. This is not the proper way to discharge our Article III responsibilities. And, it is indecorous for this Court to pretend that it is.”
 
Moore said religious liberty considerations are “probably something that will have to wait for a different court decision.”
 
The probable Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage would contradict a provision of the court’s 2013 ruling that said marriage should be defined by states, Moore said. He elaborated in a written statement released to Baptist Press, which follows:
 
“The citizens of Alabama are rightly concerned about the non-action action by the United States Supreme Court in refusing to stay same-sex marriages in the state until the Court hands down its decision this June on the matter. The same Court that ruled in 2013 that marriage should be a state, not a federal matter, is now imposing a federal definition of marriage on a state. I suspect that Justice Thomas is right in saying that the Court is signaling where they want to go on marriage.
 
“As citizens and as Christians, our response should be one of both conviction and of respect for the rule of law (1 Peter 2:13; Romans 13). Our system of government does not allow a state to defy the law of the land.
 
“In a Christian ethic, there is a time for civil disobedience in cases of unjust laws. That’s why, for instance, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. went to jail. In the case of judges and state Supreme Court justices, though, civil disobedience, even when necessary, cannot happen in their roles as agents of the state. Religious freedom and conscience objections must be balanced with a state’s obligation to discharge the law. We shouldn’t have officials breaking the law, but civil servants don’t surrender their conscience simply by serving in government. While these details are being worked out, in the absence of any conscience protections, a government employee faced with a decision of violating his conscience or upholding the law, would need to resign and protest against it as a citizen if he could not discharge the duties of his office required by law in good conscience.
 
“Given the high bar required for civil disobedience, the way to address same-sex marriage in this circumstance is not by defying the rule of law, but by making our case before the legitimate authorities. If we lose, our responsibility is to advocate as citizens for our views, even if that project is (as in the case of the pro-life movement) a long-term project, while we work for our constitutional guarantees of freedom of conscience and religious liberty.”
 
Meanwhile, a hearing was scheduled Feb. 12 in federal court regarding probate judges’ refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A ruling was not expected until at least Feb. 13.
 
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore told National Public Radio in an interview airing Feb. 12 that state judges have as much authority as federal judges to interpret the U.S. Constitution. He added that even if the Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage, it “can’t force a constitutional officer to disobey his oath by performing” a same-sex wedding.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – A statement issued by Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, for a Baptist Press story Feb. 13 was not quoted in its entirety regarding the legal and ethical issues surrounding a federal judge’s ruling against Alabama law upholding traditional marriage. The Baptist Press story is corrected to incorporate the full statement. David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. With reporting by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.)

2/13/2015 2:50:24 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Poll: 1 in 4 Americans say Islamic State represents true Islam

February 13 2015 by Aamer Madhani, Religion News Service

More than a quarter of Americans and nearly half of senior Protestant pastors say the Islamic State terrorist group offers a true representation of Islamic society, according to a pair of new surveys by LifeWay Research.
 
The findings that indicate many Americans have a dim outlook on Islam come as President Obama sent a formal request to Congress on Feb. 11 to authorize the use of military force to combat the Islamic State. Meanwhile, police in North Carolina tried to determine whether the shooting deaths of three Muslim students were hate-motivated.
 
Forty-five percent of 1,000 senior Protestant pastors surveyed say the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like.” Forty-seven percent disagreed with the statement, according to LifeWay, a Nashville-based nonprofit Christian research group. LifeWay surveyed only clergy who identified themselves as the top pastoral officials in their organizations.
 
The pastors had a much darker view of Islam than Americans at large. In contrast, in the second survey, 27 percent of Americans say the Islamic State reflects the true nature of Islamic society.
 
“People are increasingly antagonistic, and religious leaders are particularly antagonistic towards Islam, and perhaps what people are seeing nightly on TV news is driving this,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. “They think about it and say, ‘I see this every night. I don’t want this here.’”
 
Stetzer said LifeWay decided to probe Americans’ and pastors’ attitudes after Obama declared in September that “ISIL is not Islamic,” part of an effort to undercut the idea that the group represents the religion.
 
This isn’t the first study to suggest growing distrust among Americans about Islam since the rise of the Islamic State, whose militants have abducted aid workers and journalists, carried out beheadings of hostages and taken control of swaths of Syria and Iraq. Last month, a poll published by the Brookings Institution in Washington found that 14 percent of Americans say the terror group has the support of a majority of Muslims around the world.
 
What might be most notable about the LifeWay surveys is the strikingly harder views on Islam among clergy, compared with Americans at large.
 
Sixty-one percent of senior pastors disagree and 30 percent agree with the statement “True Islam creates a peaceful society.” Fifty percent of African-American pastors say Islam can create a peaceful society, while only 30 percent of white pastors agree with that statement. By contrast, 43 percent of the laypeople surveyed agree with the statement, and 40 percent disagree.
 
Other findings:

  • 37 percent of Americans say they worry about Shariah, the Islamic legal and religious code, being applied in the U.S. Older Americans, those over 45, are more likely to hold that concern than adults 18 to 44. Women (42 percent) are more likely to worry about Shariah than men are (33 percent).

  • 76 percent of pastors say airstrikes against the Islamic State are needed to protect Christians in Iraq and Syria, while 13 percent disagree.

LifeWay polled 1,000 Americans and 1,000 senior Protestant pastors throughout the country as part of the surveys. Of the pastors surveyed, 724 identified themselves as evangelical; 474 consider themselves mainline. Pastors were permitted to consider themselves under both labels.
 
The survey of Americans has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; the margin of error for the pastors’ survey is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aamer Madhani writes for USA Today.)
 

Related Stories:

Obama seeks approval for forces against ISIS
Fear of Islamic terrorism on the rise

2/13/2015 2:35:39 PM by Aamer Madhani, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Alcohol and leadership: A denominational sampling

February 13 2015 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service & BR Staff

Episcopal Bishop Heather Elizabeth Cook was arrested last month for killing a bicyclist while driving drunk in Baltimore, Md. She currently awaits her arraignment on March 5, according to The Baltimore Sun, but the scandal has raised discussion in the meantime. It has given Episcopalians and other Christian denominations a reason to reflect on their beliefs and policies regarding alcohol and alcohol abuse.
 
Here’s a sampling of how some of the nation’s Christian denominations address alcoholism among their leaders:

 
1. Southern Baptists

The Southern Baptist Convention has passed more than 50 resolutions about the “deleterious effects of consuming alcohol,” said Roger S. Oldham, spokesman for the convention’s Executive Committee. The most recent resolution, passed in 2006, urged that “no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages.”

 

Resolutions are expressions of opinion or concern put forth by messengers – representatives from local churches – to the convention at the annual meeting; they are not binding or actionable policies.

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A LifeWay Research study from 2007 shows that 27 percent of Southern Baptist church members drink alcohol. By contrast, only 3 percent of Southern Baptist senior pastors personally consume alcohol.
 
“In instances where a pastor may need treatment for substance abuse, he or his church would seek services in the same way other members of their communities would,” Oldham said.

 

2. Roman Catholics

Joe Zwilling, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said his archdiocese has responded to priests with alcohol and other addictions, including drugs and gambling. An independent network of Catholic treatment centers helps priests battling any number of problems.
 
“We do work with them in terms of finding a treatment facility for inpatient treatment, if that’s required, and then follow-up care with them afterwards,” he said. “We try to be as open as possible with the congregations involved, particularly if we’re talking about a pastor, so that they’re aware of what’s happening.”
 

3. United Methodist Church

“At one time, the denomination had a requirement that all clergy and youths sign abstinence pledges,” said the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director of the General Board of Church & Society Health & Wholeness program, but that ended decades ago. “I’m sure there are United Methodist hospitals, and other health facilities that have treatment services. There are churches that have recovery ministries, some very extensive, others nominally, such as opening their church buildings to 12-step groups.”
 

4. Assemblies of God

“We are in the process of writing a more complete paper supporting our historic and official position on abstinence from alcoholic beverages,” said Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood. “We require all ministerial applicants to agree to refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages; and recommend to our constituents that they also abstain.”
 
The Assemblies of God does not have its own treatment facilities for leaders dealing with alcohol addiction. “If a minister is drinking alcoholic beverages and their usage becomes known to the district in which their credentials are held, the district will take appropriate action to refer, discipline with rehabilitation or dismiss the minister,” he said.
 

5. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) addressed addiction and substance abuse in its “Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline” of ordained ministries, which states: “The approach of this church to such a problem may be to insist upon effective treatment or to initiate immediate discipline.”
 
Candice Hill Buchbinder, a spokeswoman for the ELCA, said the “self-care” expected of ordained ministers can include receiving counseling for substance abuse. Regional ELCA synods handle referrals to treatment facilities that are approved by health insurance.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Adelle M. Banks is production editor and a national correspondent at Religion News Service.)

2/13/2015 2:00:00 PM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service & BR Staff | with 0 comments



Parking spat as murder motive? N.C. Muslims not convinced

February 12 2015 by Yonat Shimron, Religion News Service

Preliminary police reports describe a long-simmering dispute over parking as the motive for the killings of three Muslim students at a Chapel Hill condominium Feb. 10.
 
But many Muslims in the Raleigh-Durham community and beyond are not so sure. The triple murders in this usually harmonious university town immediately took on a larger narrative of hate crimes against Muslims and charges of atheists baiting Muslims.
 
On Feb. 11, police charged Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, of Chapel Hill with three counts of first-degree murder.
 
They allege he shot Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh inside their condominium near the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill.
 
The three victims were all students at local universities – Barakat graduated from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and was enrolled in the graduate dental program at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. His wife was scheduled to follow him into the UNC dental program, and her sister was a student at N.C. State.
 
Hicks was an avowed atheist, whose Facebook comments bore at least some grudges against religion. Last month, he posted a photo that says, “Praying is pointless, useless, narcissistic, arrogant, and lazy; just like the imaginary god you pray to.”

 
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Facebook photo
Deah Shaddy Barakat, left, wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, center, and Abu-Salha’s sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, right, were shot to death Feb. 11, 2015 in their home near the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

On Feb. 11, Yusor Abu-Salha’s father, Mohammad Abu-Salha, a psychiatrist who lives in Raleigh, told The News & Observer his daughter complained that Hicks, who was a neighbor, hated Muslims. Both his daughters covered their hair with headscarves.
 
“I find it hard to believe a parking dispute alone would result in an execution-style murder of three people,” added Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. “There has to be other factors involved.”
 
Others in the community said it appeared the police were trying to minimize the religious factor in the murder.
 
“They police say they don’t know yet if it’s a hate crime,” said Anna Bigelow, associate professor of Islamic Studies at N.C. State. “But it’s irresponsible not to account for that possibility. The Muslim community has a legitimate reason to feel vulnerable and to have that vulnerability respected as part of their civil rights.”
 
This campus-heavy area known as The Triangle has seen heightened tensions in the Muslim community in recent weeks after Duke University announced plans to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer on Fridays from its iconic Duke Chapel bell tower. After unspecified security threats, Duke officials abruptly canceled the plans.
 
Bigelow taught Barakat a class titled “Islam in the Modern World” while he was an undergraduate at N.C. State. She described him as a model student – generous, thoughtful, kind and conscientious.
 
As a graduate dental student at UNC, Barakat was involved in charity work, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, offering free dental work for poor people in Durham, and raising money for dental services in Syria. A crowdfunding site set up by Barakat to provide dental care for Syrian refugees quickly exceeded its goal on Feb. 11 of $20,000.
 
On Dec. 27, he married Yusor Abu-Salha at a Marriott hotel in Raleigh with some 300 to 400 guests in attendance. She had just graduated from N.C. State.
 
Vigils for the three students were scheduled on the UNC campus on Wednesday night and on the N.C. State campus on Thursday.
 
Members of the atheist community quickly condemned the murders and issued condolences to the families.
 
Harry Shaughnessy, president of the Triangle Freethought Society, said Hicks was not on his organization’s membership rolls and did not attend meetings.
 
“This is a terrible loss of life and our hearts go out to the victim’s families,” Shaughnessy said.
 
He added that while some in the atheist community have negative feelings about religion, discussions usually center on gripes against Christianity, not Islam.
 
“We are deeply disturbed that this individual self-identifies as an atheist,” the society’s statement read.
 
But atheist animosity toward Muslims has grown in recent years, amplified by comedian Bill Maher, biologist Richard Dawkins and author Sam Harris.
 
“They say they hate all religions, but there’s one they particularly hate,” said Omid Safi, director of Duke’s Islamic Studies Center, and a former professor at nearby UNC.
 
Maher blasted “hundreds of millions” of the world’s Muslims for allegedly supporting the massacre of cartoonists, writers, and editors at Paris’ Charlie Hebdo weekly. Dawkins has also baited Muslims with comments that cast sweeping blame for the attack on an entire religion. On Feb. 11, Dawkins denounced the Chapel Hill murders.
 
Safi drove back to the UNC campus on Wednesday to offer his support to the Muslim students.
 
“I just want to hug some kids,” he said. “These UNC students are genuinely fearful for their lives. The police can say all they like. These students see this as a hate crime.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Yonat Shimron is the managing editor of RNS.)

2/12/2015 11:56:53 AM by Yonat Shimron, Religion News Service | with 1 comments



NAMB may plant churches outside U.S. & Canada

February 12 2015 by Baptist Press staff

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) may soon have permission to plant churches outside the United States and Canada if the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) approves an amendment to NAMB’s ministry statement next week (Feb. 16-17) in Nashville.
 
The amendment, which was approved by NAMB trustees in Feb. 2014, would allow the Alpharetta, Ga.-based entity 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.”
 
NAMB President Kevin Ezell said the mission agency requested the amendment so it will be able to plant churches overseas near U.S. military bases and provide funds for U.S. church planters to adopt and visit unreached people groups around the world.
 

NAMB President Kevin Ezell voices support for an amendment to the organization’s ministry statement that would allow NAMB to help plant churches and fund chaplains near U.S. military bases overseas.

In a Jan. 16 email to SBC entity heads and executives of Baptist state conventions, Ezell also expressed a desire for NAMB to take proactive steps as the social and political climate in the U.S. becomes increasingly hostile toward religious liberties.
 
“... We would like the freedom to plant churches adjacent to military bases outside the United States with the specific purpose of serving the U.S. military population there. We believe this would be a good fit since NAMB is already the endorsing entity for Southern Baptist chaplains serving in the U.S. military,” Ezell wrote.
 
Additionally, Ezell said NAMB wants to urge North American church planters to adopt unreached people groups overseas, with NAMB funds provided for each “planter and a member of his church to make a trip overseas to visit that people group.”
 
NAMB would plant overseas churches and adopt people groups “within a narrowly-defined focus and in consultation with IMB,” Ezell wrote. Military church plants would proceed “only with IMB’s support” and church planters would engage unreached people groups “through IMB’s process for this.”
 
In a Jan. 15 letter to EC President and CEO Frank S. Page, IMB President David Platt said, “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 SBC’s Organizational Manual requires that changes to the ministry statements of SBC entities be approved by the EC as well as a majority vote of messengers at an SBC annual meeting.
 
The Organizational Manual additionally requires that proposed changes to ministry statements be “circulated to SBC entity executives, state convention executives, and state Baptist paper editors before presentation to the Executive Committee for approval as recommendations to the SBC.” That requirement was met by the EC through a Jan. 15 mailing.
 
If approved by the EC, the amendment will be considered at the SBC annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, June 16-17.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/12/2015 11:48:24 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Length of creation days debated

February 12 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

An article by a popular evangelical blogger arguing that the six “days” of creation in Genesis were not literal 24-hour periods has prompted discussion among Christians about the earth’s age and whether orthodoxy necessarily entails believing in a young earth.
 
Justin Taylor, senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway, posted a blog article Jan. 28 arguing that there are “biblical reasons to doubt the creation days were 24-hour periods.” The article, which was shared on Facebook 15,000 times during its first two weeks online, also noted famous people from church history who did not believe Genesis describes six 24-hour days.
 
“I want to suggest there are some good, textual reasons – in the creation account itself – for questioning the exegesis that insists on the days as strict 24 hour periods,” Taylor, a Ph.D. student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote. “Am I as certain of this as I am of the resurrection of Christ? Definitely not. But in some segments of the church, I fear that we’ve built an exegetical ‘fence around the Torah,’ fearful that if we question any aspect of young-earth dogmatics we have opened the gate to liberalism.”
 
“Defenders of inerrancy” who did not believe in six 24-hour periods – like Augustine, J. Gresham Machen and Carl F.H. Henry – “show that this is not the case,” Taylor wrote. “And a passion for sola Scriptura provides us with the humility and willingness to go back to the text again to see if these things are so.”
 

The BF&M & creation

Southern Baptist seminary professors – though divided on whether Taylor’s conclusion is correct – agreed that old-earth creationism falls within the bounds of the Baptist Faith and Message. However, they distinguished old-earth creationism from theistic evolution.

 
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Old-earth creationism contends that God brought the world into existence from nothing by His direct action and not evolution. Old-earth creationists say the earth is billions rather than thousands of years old and that the “days” of Genesis 1 were not 24-hour periods. Theistic evolutionists claim God used evolution to create, directing the process but not simply speaking things into existence.
 
Young-earth creationists believe God created the world from nothing between 6,000 and 50,000 years ago in six literal days.
 
Jason Duesing, provost at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press he disagrees with Taylor’s blog post but believes it “is helpful because it reframes a well-worn debate topic back to what the text actually says.”
 
“As the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M) does not specifically address the age of the earth, much like the finer points of eschatology, it is a secondary matter to determine what SBC seminary professors believe about the issue. I do not mean to imply it is not important for under the BF&M, Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) faculty must affirm the creation and existence of a literal Adam and Eve and see no room for the affirmation of theistic evolution,” Duesing said in written comments.
 
“Personally, I remain convinced that the young-earth view best accounts for the plain reading of the Bible, and while I have not polled the faculty at Midwestern on this topic, I suspect the majority of the faculty would as well. For those who hold to an old-earth view, I support the legitimacy of their doing so and enjoy the sharpening that comes from healthy dialogue, even as their conclusions and implications do cause me some good natured head-scratching. In the end, I see this as an intramural discussion among creationists and hope that such only serves to bind us closer together in refuting that which is clearly contrary to scripture, the theory of evolution,” Duesing said.
 
The Baptist Faith and Message refers to God as the “Creator” and explains, “Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation.”
 

An old earth?

Taylor presented five biblical considerations that lead him to believe the “days” of Genesis 1 were longer than 24 hours. Among Taylor’s arguments:

  • “The seventh ‘day’ is not 24 hours long.”

God’s creation “rest” was not limited to a 24-hour period, Taylor wrote, noting that Hebrews 4 underscores this point.

  • “The ‘day’ of Genesis 2:4 cannot be 24 hours long.”

“After using ‘the seventh day’ in an analogical way ... we read in the very next verse, Genesis 2:4: ‘These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day [yom] that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,’“ Taylor wrote. “The precise meaning of this is debated. But what seems clear, if we believe the Bible does not contradict itself, is that this (singular) ‘day’ – in which the creation events (plural ‘generations’) occur – cannot refer to a single 24-hour period.”

  • Genesis 2:5-7 assumes that the “day” described in Genesis 2:4 was longer “than an ordinary calendar day” because it included natural “seasons and rain cycles” that take longer than 24-hours.

Taylor argued that God does not want readers of scripture to substitute the word “eons” or “ages” when they see the word “day.” But neither does He want readers “to think of precise units of time, marked by 24 exact hours.”
 
Ken Keathley, professor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and coauthor of 40 Questions About Creation and Evolution (Kregel), said he agrees with Taylor and is “convinced that the 24-hour interpretation does not do justice to all that the text says.”
 
The old-earth interpretation of Genesis 1-2 is becoming increasingly popular among Southern Baptists, Keathley said.
 
“Prior to the 1960s, the majority of evangelical pastors and professors (including those in the SBC) held to old-earth creationism,” Keathley said in written comments. “In 1961 John Whitcomb and Henry Morris published The Genesis Flood and the young-earth movement was born. Until recently, young-earth creationism has been the predominant view among evangelicals in general and Southern Baptists in particular.
 
“A significant change is happening now. The arguments in The Genesis Flood have not stood the test of time, and very few young-earth advocates use them. More and more pastors and leaders are realizing that the Genesis text does not lend itself easily to the young-earth position. Many of the strongest proponents of the old-earth interpretation are Old Testament scholars,” Keathley said.
 

A young earth?

James Hamilton, professor of biblical theology at Southern, disagrees with Taylor. In a Feb. 9 blog article responding to Taylor, Hamilton cited as a key passage in the debate Exodus 20:10-11 – “But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. You must not do any work – you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. For the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six says; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.”
 
The “most natural reading of Exodus 20:10-11 seems to be that the six days of creation followed by the Sabbath day of rest was a cycle of the same kind of seven day week that was to become the pattern of Israel’s experience,” Hamilton wrote. “It’s hard for me to imagine someone coming to some other kind of conclusion unless he seeks to accommodate extra-biblical considerations from philosophy (a la Augustine) or science (a la contemporary old earthers).”
 
Other respondents to Taylor also discussed whether his arguments were driven solely by study of the Bible or by outside influences as well.
 
Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis (AiG), wrote in a blog post that Taylor’s “real motivation is that outside influences have already led him to postulate whatever reasons he can try to muster not to be adamant about six literal days of creation in Genesis 1.”
 
Ham added, “When Christian leaders today are rejecting a dogmatic stand on six, literal, 24-hour days of creation and a young earth, if you search their writings or question them, you will find that ultimately their thinking is being controlled by the belief in an old earth/universe (billions of years). Even though some try to claim that is not so but that they are just looking at what the Bible says, if you ask the right questions, I assert, you will find this strong influence is there. You simply do not get the idea of millions or billions of years from scripture – it comes from outside scripture.”
 
Evangelical blogger Samuel James responded to Ham at the Patheos website, stating that Ham’s blog was “an incredibly irresponsible reply to an article that deserved much better.” Hamilton similarly wrote that young-earth creationists should hold their position “with epistemological humility and not, as AiG does, suggest that old-earth creationists ... are opening the door to abortion on demand and gay marriage.”
 
James wrote in his blog, “If Ham believes that adherence to YEC [young-earth creationism] is essential for gospel faith, he should produce the necessary theological arguments. Until he does, Ham has absolutely no right to slough off well written and fairly argued articles that present inerrancy-friendly challenges to YEC interpretations. Ham’s response is the kind of attitude that stifles productive discussion and unnecessarily divides the church. He should, and can, do better.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/12/2015 11:41:51 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 3 comments



David Platt to Baptist editors: ‘5 desires’ for IMB

February 11 2015 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

David Platt has “five desires that are driving me” as president of the International Mission Board (IMB).
 
Platt, speaking to editors of Baptist state papers Feb. 10, listed the desires that are key to him at the six-month point of his leadership of Southern Baptists’ overseas missions initiatives:

  1. “to exalt Christ”

  2. “to mobilize Christians”

  3. “to equip the church”

  4. “to facilitate church planting”

  5. “to play our part in the accomplishment of the Great Commission

“It’s not tolerable” that billions of people have never heard the name of Jesus, Platt said with resolve, or for children to be unreached by the gospel while facing a life expectancy of less than eight years in parts of the world – or for 10-year-old children to face the horror of sex trafficking.
 
While the International Mission Board supports 4,800 missionaries with a budget of nearly $300 million a year, Platt noted, “I’m convinced it’s a critical time for the [Southern Baptist Convention] and IMB.”

 

The missionary force is down from a record 5,600 missionaries less than a decade ago, “and it’s dropping. We’re not able to support the missionary force we have now financially. That will drop soon to 4,200, likely, unless ...”

platt2-11-15.jpg

Photo by Van Payne/IMB
Baptist state executives and editors from around the country surround and pray for David Platt, newly elected president of the International Mission Board. Platt had shared with the group his five desires for the IMB during his time at the helm.

 

Unless Southern Baptists make the sacrifices needed to rise to God’s call to reach the nations, to “think creatively” in their missions methods and to build on the blessings God has given the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Platt said.
 
Over the mission board’s history, 20,000 Southern Baptists have served as overseas missionaries, “which is an awesome number,” Platt said, “but the reality is we need 20,000 now.”
 
Platt spoke of his view of the Cooperative Program channel by which Southern Baptists support missions and ministries globally, nationally and in their states since he became IMB president after serving as pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.

 

“[In] the process of praying through accepting this role, and then certainly being in this role, I’ve been reminded in a fresh way, in a needed way, of the stewardship God has entrusted to the SBC and the value of the Cooperative Program,” Platt said.
 
To young pastors who might voice uncertainty about an “institutional” SBC compared to other mission networks, Platt reflected, “I say, I kind of understand that. I praise God for continuing to grow relational networks to get the gospel to people who have never heard.
 
“And the same time, can you realize what God has given to the SBC?” he said, pointing to “conventions of churches, united together, with six strong seminaries who are raising up and training thousands of leaders every year [... and] the North American Mission Board and International Mission Board that are together spending half a billion dollars on the spread of the Gospel and the planting of the church in North America and the nations [... and the] ERLC” as an advocate for religious liberty.
 
“And the Cooperative Program,” Platt said, “[is] an engine that fuels all that. It would take 100 years to be able to get what we’ve got in the SBC, and once we did, we’d have a lot of the challenges that we have now. ... [T]here’s so much value.
 
“I am in this role,” Platt said, “because I believe ... in the unique stewardship that God has given to the SBC and the Cooperative Program.”
 
Platt set forth his key desires as IMB president in addressing the annual meeting of the Association of State Baptist Publications, Feb. 9-12 in Orange Beach, Ala.:
 

“to exalt Christ”

“We are tempted at every turn at church and in missions to do things in man-centered ways instead of Christ-guided ways ... to develop our own plans and then go to God’s Word for permission to justify the plans we’ve come up with,” Platt said.
 
Rather, he said, “our responsibility is to go to the Word for direction. ... We don’t exalt Christ by pragmatic methods that are just focused on what we think works [but on] what God has said in His Word that lasts throughout time.” Scripture, he said, must drive “the content of what we preach and the methods by which we spread [His] Word.”
 
People may try to think about how to make the gospel “more palatable” to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, animists and others, Platt said, but “in the process we start to dilute the gospel” and power of the cross to turn those who are lost to a saving faith in Christ.
 
God “has given us a clear plan for how the gospel is to spread to the ends of the earth,” he said of making disciples and forming them into churches that are “reproducing by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
 
Platt added that Christ also is exalted by Christ-like missionaries.
 
“We are sending out brothers and sisters into some of the most difficult and dangerous ... places and peoples in the world. We are going into areas where the adversary has had strongholds for generations, for centuries. ...
 
“And so we must have personal holiness,” Platt said. A lost world needs “to see the character of Christ in us.”
 

“to mobilize Christians”

Platt said he prays for followers of Christ to increasingly realize “that global missions is not just a compartmentalized program of the church for a select few people. ... It’s the very purpose for which we were created.”
 
God’s intention should stir people to consider: “How does that affect the way I pray? How does that affect the way I give? How does that affect opportunities I seek out to go and be a part of what God is doing around the world? And even if I don’t move somewhere else, how do I deliberately stay to spread the gospel among the nations?”
 
Among history’s Moravians, Platt said, one of every 92 were crossing cultures to spread the gospel with any vocational skills they had. If 10 million Southern Baptists had that mindset, there could be 100,000 Baptists doing the same today, he said.
 
“[T]his mission is too urgent not to think in those kinds of terms,” Platt said.
 
“There are ways that God in the global marketplace has sovereignly ordained for opportunities and avenues to be opened up,” he said. “I don’t want the IMB to be a funnel that ... only a few people can squeeze through in order to get involved in God’s global plan. Avenues are wide open for people going and spreading the Gospel to people who have never heard it.”
 

“to equip the church”

“When you look at the New Testament, the local church is the agent that God has promised to bless for the accomplishment of the Great Commission. It’s the churches sending out missionaries,” Platt said.
 
“Mission boards have their place,” he said, “but it’s the role of every local church pastor to stand and proclaim God’s global glory in that local church.”
 
The IMB can help churches as they worship and pray “to send out people and to shepherd them as they go,” Platt said. “It makes all the difference in the world when those who go overseas are intimately connected with a local body of believers to pray for them, loving them and sending them.”
 
The IMB must not say to churches, “We can do this mission. If you’ll just send us missionaries and money, we’ll take care of it for you,” Platt said. “There’s a more biblical way. That’s to come alongside a local church and say, ‘Actually, you can do this. And here’s how we can help.’”
 

“to facilitate church planting”

The IMB can provide critical coordination for churches in sending missionaries, he said, citing two examples:

  1. matching missionaries from various churches – couples, retirees, singles–- to where the need for the gospel is greatest.
  2. helping churches with “how we most wisely get there” and “once we get there, how we best share the gospel.”

“to play our part in the accomplishment of the Great Commission”

The Great Commission “can be accomplished and one day will be accomplished,” Platt said, citing the book of Revelation, chapters 5 and 7. “We know there is coming a day when every nation, tribe, tongue and people will gather around the throne of our King and sing His praise. ...
 
“As president of the IMB, I’m not living or leading for the perpetuation of this organization. I am living and leading for the day ... when we’re not talking about unreached peoples anymore; instead, we’re talking about the return of the King.”
 
The Great Commission “does not rest on the shoulders of the Southern Baptist Convention. We’re a part of a global church family that God is orchestrating ... for however we can best play our part.
 
“Don’t get me wrong, I believe He’s given us a significant part, and I look at the IMB as part of the broader picture of the SBC. ... It’s really beyond words” – 40,000-plus churches “coalesced together for the spread of the gospel in North America and the nations. ...
 
“Every single one of us has unique gifts, skills, opportunities” toward fulfilling the Great Commission, “every single member of our churches,” Platt said.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.)

2/11/2015 12:42:30 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



New D.C. laws violate religious liberty, leaders say

February 11 2015 by Baptist Press staff

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has joined other religious, pro-life and pro-family organizations in urging Congress to reject new District of Columbia laws they say violate their First Amendment rights.
 
The ERLC and its allies, which all have offices in D.C., said the two measures are “unprecedented assaults” on their organizations. The laws “violate the freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom of association protected by the First Amendment and other federal law,” they said.
 
The organizations took issue with the laws in Feb. 5 letters to the Senate and House of Representatives. They asked congressional members to rescind the measures during the period they have to review laws approved by the government of the country’s capital. Congress has 30 legislative days to disapprove the bills after the D.C. Council forwards them to the Senate and House.
 
The laws are:

  • The Reproductive Health Non-discrimination Amendment Act, which mandates employers “shall not discriminate” on the basis of “reproductive health decision making,” which could include abortion and contraception for an employee or dependent.

  • The Human Rights Amendment Act, which eliminates a long-standing exemption from the district’s gay rights law for religious-affiliated, educational institutions.


In each case, the ERLC and its allies said the law would force them to act in contradiction to their religious beliefs and mission by supporting those who oppose their teachings on the sanctity of human life and sexuality.
 
ERLC President Russell Moore, one of the letter signers, described as “breathtaking” the district’s “total disregard for religious freedom and the First Amendment in passing these laws.”
 
“Once again we see the kind of pluralism that the sexual revolution is interested in – one that seeks to stamp out and silence any and all opposition,” Moore said in written comments for Baptist Press.
 
Casey Mattox, senior counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and a letter signer, said in a written statement, “The government has no business forcing pro-life and faith-based organizations to betray the very values they were created to advance. Congress should exercise its authority to stop these hopelessly illegal bills rather than allow D.C. officials to waste American taxpayer dollars defending the indefensible.”
 
In addition to the ERLC and ADF, other letter signers represented the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Association of Evangelicals, Catholic University of America, American Center for Law and Justice, March for Life Education and Defense Fund, Family Research Council, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, Concerned Women for America, Knights of Columbus, Eagle Forum, Archdiocese of the Military Services, Heritage Action for America and National Organization for Marriage.
 
In order to prevent the D.C. laws from taking effect, both houses of Congress must pass a resolution of disapproval. The president also must sign it.
 
The D.C. government has demonstrated some concern over its own legislation. New Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed the measures but has not sent them to Congress, according to The Washington Post. Bowser recently sent the D.C. Council an emergency bill that clarifies the reproductive health measure would not require employers to provide insurance coverage to workers for abortion and contraception, The Post reported.
 
The ERLC and the other organizations said the emergency proposal is insufficient. It may address concerns regarding insurance coverage, but it fails to solve other constitutional problems, their letters to Congress said.
 
The reproductive health legislation “prevents religious institutions, other faith-based employers, and pro-life advocacy organizations from making employment decisions consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs or their moral and ethical views about the sanctity of human life,” the letters said. “For example, the law requires our organizations to hire or retain individuals whose speech or public conduct contradicts the organizations’ missions, and could be read to require our organizations to subsidize elective abortions through their employee health plans.”
 
The human rights law, the letters said, “requires religiously affiliated educational institutions to endorse, sponsor and provide school resources to persons or groups that oppose the institutions’ religious teachings regarding human sexuality.”
 
Both laws contravene the First Amendment, as well as the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), according to the letters. RFRA requires government to have a compelling interest and use the narrowest possible means in burdening a person’s religious exercise.
 
The ERLC and the other signers told Congress, “Most of us do not engage in the city’s legislative affairs, but we must do so now with one voice” against the new laws.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/11/2015 12:01:01 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



Fear of Islamic terrorism on rise, Pew reports

February 11 2015 by Baptist Press staff

Amid the controversy President Obama stirred with comments at the National Prayer Breakfast regarding Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Boko Haram violence, the Pew Research Center has highlighted statistics showing a rising fear against terrorism in the Middle East and Africa.
 
ISIS and Boko Haram atrocities committed in the name of religion are comparable to religious Crusades and inquisitions of centuries ago, Obama said Feb. 5, leading many Southern Baptists and others to accuse him of downplaying terrorism.
 
“The president compared the Crusades to the Islamic State – a flawed comparison,” Southern Baptist Convention Ronnie Floyd said days after the breakfast. “And in making the comparison, he seemed to minimize the severity of ISIS and other groups that are brutalizing and killing innocent people.”

 
2-11-15terrorism.jpg

Screen capture
A video posted to social media last year showed the beheading of American journalist James Foley by an ISIS jihadist. Fear of Islamic terrorism is on the rise, due to the spread of ISIS and similar groups.

In a press release hours after the president’s remarks, the Pew Research Center highlighted results of a 2014 poll showing a growing fear of terrorism among Christians and Muslims globally.
 
“At the Pew Research Center, we’ve been asking questions related to extremism on our international surveys for over a decade, and what we’ve generally found among Muslim publics is that support for extremism is low, while concerns about it are high,” Richard Wike, associate director of Pew’s Global Attitudes Project, said in a press release. “One pattern we’ve seen in different parts of the world is that the more people are exposed to terrorist violence, the more they reject it.”
 
For instance in Lebanon, which shares a border with ISIS-plagued Syria, 92 percent of the public is worried about Islamic extremism, an increase of 11 points from 2013, according to Pew statistics.
 
Majorities in most of the countries polled are concerned about Islamic extremism, Pew found. Concern about Islamic extremism registered 84 percent in Israel, 80 percent in Tunisia, 75 percent in Egypt, 65 percent in Palestinian territories, 62 percent in Jordan, and 50 percent in Turkey, Pew reported.
 
Regarding Boko Haram, 82 percent of Nigerians have an unfavorable opinion of the terrorists who have killed more than 10,000 and displaced perhaps millions in the African nation. There, both Christians (83 percent) and Muslims (80 percent) share negative views of the terrorists.
 
In Asia, concern about Islamic terrorism registers 69 percent in Bangladesh, 66 percent in Pakistan and 63 percent in Malaysia, Pew reported. Wike noted specifically the fear of the Taliban, al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas is continuing to grow in that region.
 
“The terrible violence Pakistanis have experienced at the hands of the Taliban and other groups over the past decade has led many to reject violent extremism. In 2004, 41% of Pakistani Muslims said suicide bombing can often or sometimes be justified; by 2014 only 3% held this view,” Wike said. “The survey also found mostly negative views toward al Qaeda and other extremist groups in these and many other predominantly Muslim countries. The most positive rating for al Qaeda was in the Palestinian territories, where 25% had a favorable view of the terrorist organization.”
 
The highest rate of concern against Hezbollah and Hamas was registered among Jews in Israel, where 100 percent of the ethnic group has an unfavorable opinion of both groups of terrorists, Pew reported.
 
The study is available at pewglobal.org/2014/07/01/concerns-about-islamic-extremism-on-the-rise-in-middle-east.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/11/2015 11:54:22 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments



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