February 2016

Moore: Pope’s reasoning wrong on death penalty ban

February 24 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Pope Francis is wrong in asserting the death penalty always violates the Bible’s command not to murder, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore says.
In a Feb. 21 blog post, Moore responded to the pope’s call the same day for a worldwide ban on capital punishment. The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) took issue with the reasoning used by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in his abolitionist appeal.
Pope Francis referred to the 10 Commandments in telling tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, “The commandment ‘You shall not kill’ has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty.” He appealed to “the consciences of those who govern to reach an international consensus to abolish the death penalty,” according to Reuters News Service.
The Bible, however, distinguishes between the innocent and guilty, Moore wrote in his post.
The pope’s argument is not just practical but an across-the-board application to every use of capital punishment, Moore said.
“On that, I believe he is wrong. We may disagree, with good arguments on both sides, about the death penalty. But as we do so, we must not lose the distinction the Bible makes between the innocent and the guilty,” he wrote. “The gospel shows us forgiveness for the guilty through the sin-absorbing atonement of Christ, not through the state’s refusal to carry out temporal justice.”
The Mosaic Law the pope appeals to in calling for the death penalty’s abolition actually “draws a distinction between murder and lawful execution by the state,” Moore said.
Also, capital punishment approved by God predates the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Mosaic Law, Moore wrote. “In the covenant with Noah [in Gen. 9], God forbade murder and simultaneously made provision for the death penalty in some instances. Humanity, created in the image of God, is of such value that to murder is to bear the most awful consequences imaginable, the forfeiture of one’s own life.”
Moore also cited the Catholic Church’s centuries-long defense of “just war” theory in at least some circumstances. “If one believes the state can order the military to kill opposing combatants in war, one does not, by definition, believe that every instance of the state killing is a violation of the commandment not to murder,” he said.
Biblical support for the state’s use of capital punishment continues in the New Testament, Moore said. The apostle Paul refers to the Roman government “bearing the sword” in Romans 13, shortly after he urges Christians not to take vengeance, he wrote.
“Some have argued (unconvincingly, in my view) that this ‘bearing the sword’ is police power, not [the] death penalty,” Moore said. “But police power, if armed with lethal arms, always carries at least the possibility of the death of the evildoer. If that is always and everywhere murder, then it deserves the full sanction of God’s moral judgment.”
Paul does not offer any divine sanction, however, he said.
The understanding that the Bible draws a distinction between murder and the death penalty “does not settle the question of whether we ought to have capital punishment,” Moore acknowledged. “There are, in many places, serious problems with the application of capital punishment.”
These include “racial and economic disparities” in the use of the death penalty in many locations, disparities that exist in other aspects of criminal justice, he said.
“Christians can debate whether a state should declare a moratorium on capital punishment while reforming unjust sentencing practices,” Moore wrote. “Christians can debate whether the death penalty is effective as a deterrent or whether the death penalty is meaningful at all in a world in which legal systems delay for years the application of the penalty. These are prudential debates about how best to order our political systems, not debates about whether every act of state killing is murder and thus immoral and unjust.”
Moore said he agrees with the pope regarding “the value of human life” and his opposition to the “culture of death.”
“He is also right about the church’s responsibility to prisoners, to remember those who are jailed, to minister to them, and to work against policies that violate human dignity or harden criminals in their criminality,” Moore wrote.
The pope issued his call for a ban on capital punishment the day before a Catholic-sponsored international conference opposing the death penalty began in Rome.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/24/2016 11:24:59 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Couple offers Remedy in Portland

February 23 2016 by Jim Burton, NAMB

When Josh Carter and his family migrated 2,700 miles from East Tennessee to the Pacific Northwest, he found his people – mountain people – in Oregon. The move was out of obedience to God’s call on the family.
Carter’s preparation didn’t happen without hardship and a spiritual battle. The product of a broken home, grandparents helped in the raising of Carter and his two siblings in East Tennessee. Under the tutelage of his grandfather, who pastored an 80-member country church, Carter made a profession of faith in Christ.
In college, he became active in ministries and even started a church in East Tennessee with his wife, Amy, whom he had known since kindergarten in Kingsport, Tenn. Carter was 21, a newlywed and over his head.
“I had no idea how to lead,” he said.


NAMB photos by Susan Whitley
Raised by his grandparents, Josh Carter grew up watching his grandfather pastor a small church in Virginia. The Carters are North American Mission Board 2016 Week of Prayer Missionaries. The goal for the 2016 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is $70 million. To learn more about the Week of Prayer, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and how your church can be mobilized to push back lostness in North America, visit anniearmstrong.com.

By age 23, Tri-Cities Baptist Church in Gray, Tenn., invited him to be their interim youth leader. He served in that role for seven years before joining the lead pastor staff and supervising youth and family ministries.
The church grew rapidly and afforded multiple opportunities for Carter, including international mission trips.
“Life was awesome,” Carter said. Then he started wondering, “What would it look like to go to a place where there’s not a lot of mobilizing and not a lot of activity regarding evangelicals?”
Carter knew his family could stay where substantial ministry was happening at Tri-Cities.
“It’s not bad for me to stay here,” he concluded. “But, for me, my life would be worthless unless I followed in obedience the call in my life of going to an unreached people and raising disciples among them.”
The Carters considered some international venues, and then they looked west. The first stop was an assessment process that gave them the green light to go without knowing where to go.
About that time, Mike Laughrun became the Tri-Cities Baptist Church pastor. He had helped Vance Pitman plant Hope Church in Las Vegas.
Hope has been a model for westward expansion since its inception, and they have a residency program for people like Carter and his family. As Laughrun moved Tri-Cities toward planting its first church, the Carters agreed to move west for a year-long residency at Hope Church.
“We moved out of our culture and allowed God to speak to us,” Carter said.

Anywhere but Portland

Once in Las Vegas, they began visiting other western cities.
“The first time we flew into Portland, we said we would not go there,” Carter said. “Portland scared me because I didn’t want to be a failure in church planting.”
Portland’s reputation for church planting is not pristine. Some have called it a church planting graveyard; others call the region America’s dark corner.
Typically, Portlanders don’t warm up to evangelicalism.
Yes, he had experienced a rough patch as a 21-year-old church planter, but since then Carter had become a competent and successful ministry leader. He knew how to do church.
“God would not tell me where I was going next because He had to root out of me the idea that it was me building the church,” Carter said.
They loved Las Vegas and hoped for a calling to San Diego. But Portland kept ringing.
In a conversation with Amy, Carter told her that even though he didn’t want to go there, he couldn’t get Portland off his mind. “She would cry and say, ‘I can’t either,’” he said.
The staff and congregation at Hope Church already knew.
“Most people around you know before you know,” Carter said. “They all knew we were going to Portland.”
Tri-Cities has supported and mentored the Carters since they were young. They continue to support them in Portland as their Sending Church.
“I have known Josh and Amy Carter since they were in high school,” said Jeff Palmeter, Global Outreach pastor for Tri-Cities.
“Amy babysat for us when our children were younger. They grew up in our church.
“We chose to support them because we know them well, and we believe that the local church is the one who sends out planters.
“Josh has a great vision to be regularly sending out church planters and investing in church planting over many years. We see Josh as being the beginning, a catalyst, of this movement within our church,” said Palmeter.

Remedy Church City Groups

Portland is a city of 2.3 million people comprised of multiple 10-minute communities. Residents are loyal to their neighborhoods and have virtually all necessary services available to them within a 10-minute drive.
A predominant value is tolerance in a freethinking, new-age and eclectic culture that is perhaps best symbolized by the television show “Portlandia.”
Few families are looking for a church.
The Carters settled in affluent and multi-ethnic west Portland. Residents are highly educated and self-sufficient.
Their strategy is to start Remedy City Church, where Christ, through His body is the remedy for the city, by creating multiple home city groups. They have hosted the first in their home and have taught curriculum they call “The Jesus Life.”
Their goal is to launch Remedy formally after establishing at least three city groups, which other East Tennesseans who have joined the Carters in the Pacific Northwest will likely host.
“It’s hard to meet up here because there’s no place to meet,” Carter said. “We’re trying to stay in the homes as long as we can.”
They are in Portland, in part, because of the finances available from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® and the Cooperative Program.
“NAMB supports us and allows us to do what we do,” Carter said.
Getting to Portland was a battle, and being there has presented multiple challenges. Now they understand better why God led them there.
“It’s not so much about what God wants to do with you but what God wants to do in you,” Carter said.
The goal for the 2016 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is $70 million.
To learn more about the Week of Prayer, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and how your church can be mobilized to push back lostness in North America, visit anniearmstrong.com.
To read about the other 2016 featured missionaries, visit anniearmstrong.com/missionaries-2016.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a photojournalist and writer living in Atlanta.)

2/23/2016 11:40:47 AM by Jim Burton, NAMB | with 0 comments

Can police protect citizens amid a ‘chill wind’?

February 23 2016 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey has warned of a “chill wind” undercutting law enforcement officers in America.
If data begins to confirm Comey’s warning of police officers’ wariness to get out of their cars amid jeering and cellphone videos, the chill wind also would undercut America’s governance.
“The most visible form of government is the law enforcement officer,” said Patrick Oliver, director of the criminal justice program at Cedarville University, a Baptist college in Ohio.
“The primary purpose of every American law enforcement officer is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” with its Bill of Rights “to protect the rights given by God to man,” Oliver said.


“The law enforcement officer’s job has more authority than any other job in our society, with a range of discretion from a verbal warning to deadly force – all that may be legal under the law,” Oliver said. “That amount of authority,” he noted, “must be guided by high moral character, objectivity and humility.”
Thor Madsen, professor of New Testament, ethics and philosophy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., likewise underscored law enforcement’s role “to ensure that the God-given rights of each citizen are protected, both proactively and reactively, so that we all remain free to do what pleases Him.”
“Actions really do have consequences, given the realities of human nature,” Madsen said. “Thus, for example, if private citizens give the police reasons not to enforce the law intensively, the police will be tempted to stand down.
“If they elect representatives who tolerate drug trafficking, drug trafficking will increase. If our legal system does not deter violence, we will get more of it,” Madsen said. “Our nation does not need more data to establish these cause-and-effect outcomes. We’ve known about them for decades, in keeping with straightforward common sense.”
It is too early to tell whether America is on a trajectory for crime to soar after more than a year of protests and violence in some communities in what has been called “the Ferguson effect” stemming from the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and a number of other young black men in confrontations with police.
An 11 percent uptick in the national murder rate has been projected in a preliminary 2015 analysis by the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. Fourteen major cities experienced increases while 11 had decreases, according to the analysis. The overall crime rate (encompassing such felonies as robbery and assault), meanwhile, is projected to drop by 1.5 percent.
According to local media reports, Baltimore’s 2015 per capita murder rate was the highest in the city’s history; St. Louis recorded the highest number of murders in two decades and Nashville’s was the highest since 2009; Chicago’s murder rate rose 12.5 percent. The 339 murders in New York City as of Dec. 25, however, was only a small increase from the previous year’s historic low of 333.
FBI Director Comey, in a widely reported address to the International Association of Chiefs of Police last October in Chicago, discussed various reasons for an apparent rise in crime in 2015, adding his theory that “maybe something has changed in policing.”
Comey pondered such questions as: “In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys with guns from standing around?”
Officers in one big city precinct, as Comey put it, told of “being surrounded by young people with mobile phones, video cameras rolling, as they step out of the cars, taunting them, asking them what they want and why they’re there. They described a feeling of being under siege and were honest and said, ‘We don’t feel much like getting out of cars.’ I have been told about a senior police leader who told his force, ‘Our political leadership has zero tolerance for you all being connected to another viral video.’”
This “chill wind,” Comey acknowledged, can have a positive effect as officers “learn more about de-escalation and better use of force.” Assessing the potential rise in violence and how to address it, he also said, is hampered by data inconsistencies across the country on crime trends and patterns as well as officer-involved shootings.

Prayer & ministry

Arkansas pastor Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), told Baptist Press, “It is disturbing to read how violent crime is up across the nation in some of our major cities.... While problems exist in many areas, there is no greater need than to see the next Great Awakening in the United States.”
Philadelphia pastor K. Marshall Williams, president of the National African American Fellowship in the SBC, said in the days after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, “This is a sin-sick, self-centered secular society in which we live” afflicted with “greed, hatred, racism, classism and injustice.... We need passionate prayer, spiritual renewal and revival in our land.”
Williams urged Christians “to unify by the power of the Holy Ghost and exemplify radical obedience to the Greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) which is to love God – and inextricably linked up in loving God is loving your brother.”
Churches considering outreach to law enforcement officers as one of their community ministries must be aware of the culture, said Dan Crumley, who leads the Atlanta-area Courageous Servant Ministries for carrying the Gospel to those with a badge.
Pride runs high, said Crumley, who was an officer in several Atlanta-area jurisdictions for 18 years.
“They must adopt a mindset at the beginning of their work to consider themselves bigger, tougher, faster – whatever the adjective – so they can overcome and defeat their opponent,” Crumley said. “They have the authority, for the most part, to have people do whatever they tell them to do. This alone causes them to think much more highly of themselves than many others do.
“Almost every time, this persona carries over into their personal lives as well,” he added.
Additionally, they are wary of the public, Crumley said. “Consider the fact they are lied to every day, a large portion of the media coverage is tainted against them, and society tends to look for their faults instead of their highlights.... As a result, an ‘us or them’ mentality results,” he said. “The job often insulates officers from anyone else but other cops.”
One key to reaching police for Christ, Crumley said, is “breaking through the false armor,” often with “a confrontation of their sinful lives in comparison to a holy God.”
Crumley encourages churches to be proactive, “with the understanding that instead of asking [officers] to come to them, the church goes to them.” He has helped churches take a meal to a precinct with several members there to serve the food. “This type of outreach lets the officers know that nothing is expected of them; the church is only there to show the love of Christ,” he said.
Individual church members can participate in a citizens police academy if one is offered in their community. “They are usually eight to 10 weeks long where ordinary citizens get an opportunity to learn all aspects of police work, ride with officers on their shift, and get to know the individual, instead of the badge. These are excellent opportunities for Christians to share the Gospel.”
Among Christians who work in law enforcement, Michael Lawson, director of campus security at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “Police officers only see society at its worst, and so it is hard at times to maintain ‘love for your neighbor’ when you may not trust your neighbor.”
Yet opportunities for witness are abundant, said Lawson, who also is an auxiliary police officer, SWAT team member and chaplain in Wake Forest, N.C., near Raleigh.
“I have been able to speak truth into situations in which a pastor would never be involved.” Lawson said. “I don’t necessarily tell them that the truth I am speaking is biblical, but if asked, I certainly can. You are constantly dealing with issues of sin and its consequences, so to be able to speak biblical truth into those situations is a great blessing.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. Atlanta-area writer Lee Weeks contributed to this story.)

2/23/2016 11:34:26 AM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Events offers refreshing time for ministry wives

February 23 2016 by BSC Communications

Refresh, a day to equip and encourage ministry wives is set for March 5. Registration and check-in begins at 8:30 with the program starting at 9 a.m. The event is hosted by Old Town Baptist Church in Winston-Salem. The cost is $25 and includes lunch and program materials. Beth Harris of First Baptist Church in Charlotte and Tabatha Frost of Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh are the main speakers. Below, hear from Harris and Frost about ministering to ministry wives. Visit ncbaptist.org/ministrywives16.

Beth Harris

Beth Harris has been a minister’s wife for over 27 years alongside her husband, Mark E. Harris, who serves as pastor of First Baptist Church in Charlotte. She has also served on the boards of Salem Pregnancy Support Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., and the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Harris and her husband have three grown children.


Beth Harris

Q: Why is ministering to ministry wives important?
A: Ministry wives not only experience the same highs and lows of life that all women experience, but they do so in the context of being in a public position with a high expectation of perfection.
They may find their husbands both placed on an unrealistic pedestal or unfairly criticized, and all of these factors can combine to produce stress. It is vital that they have truly spiritual times of refreshment in worship and prayer with each other away from the congregations they serve. I can recall one N.C. Ministers’ Wives retreat specifically in which our prayer time was so sweet and so powerful, it literally improved my physical well-being and lifted my spirit for weeks afterward.
Q: When your husband first became a minister, what were some of your feats, and what did God teach you?
A: Like many ministry wives, I had to work outside the home while my husband was in seminary. During those years I also gave birth to two children. So, a “feat” of mine, as Jacqueline Kennedy once said, was surviving! I was also blessed to make a lifelong friend through a women’s Bible study that I led. I learned to keep the main thing, the main thing in any ministry endeavor.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you would share with a young ministry wife?
A: I will be sharing about this on the retreat – but if I could go back and tell myself one thing, it would be to look for the opportunity in the obligation.
Q: What do you wish people in other ministry positions understood about ministry wives?
A: That we are given our own set of spiritual gifts as is every other believer. We are not equipped to say yes to every request, nor should our gifts be ignored because our husbands are the senior pastor.
Q: What has been your greatest joy as a ministry wife?
A: Seeing people come to faith in Christ and growing in their faith, and seeing my children grow up and be faithful to the Church and serious about their faith.
Q: What do you hope fellow ministry wives take away from what you share at “Refresh”?
A: I hope they come away embracing their status as role models and influencers more than ever. It took me a long time to truly understand that potential in its proper perspective – not as a pleaser of men, but as a disciple of Christ.


Tabatha Frost


Tabatha Frost

Tabatha Frost is the women’s ministry director at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh. Her husband, Brian, is the senior pastor at Providence. Frost and her husband have three children.
Q: Why is ministering to ministry wives important?
A: Ministering to women in general is important because God has called us to do it in His Word. Hebrews 10:24-25 challenges us to spur one another to love and good deeds, to meet together and to encourage one another. Wives pour themselves out to support their husbands, nurture their children, care for their homes and minister to their neighbors.
As women, it is essential for us to have godly women in our lives who can walk beside us and encourage us when we are discouraged, confront us when we sin, comfort us when we grieve and remind us of truth when we doubt.
God does use His Word and His Spirit to fill our cups, but He often uses other women as tangible evidence of His love for us.
Q: What sets the role of minister’s wife apart from other ministry positions – what makes it unique?
A: The role of minister’s wife is unique in that a pastor’s wife is very visible, yet her role is a behind-the-scenes role. Often, the Church does not give us a job description, but it has many and various expectations of us.
Q: What is the best advice given to you as a ministry wife?
A: Do not feel like you have to be involved in every ministry. Know what the Lord has called you to do, and faithfully follow His lead. Focus more on pleasing God rather than man. (Galatians 1:10)
Q: How do you juggle your own growth in the Lord as you minister to your family and as you serve at Providence?
A: My personal time in God’s Word is a priority. Throughout the different phases of my life, my “quiet time” has changed and evolved, but having one-on-one time in the Bible has been crucial for my personal growth. As I daily seek Him in His Word, He renews my perspective, reminding me of what is important.
When I take time to listen to Him in prayer, He sustains me as I walk through the day with the kids, disciple young ladies or prepare for the next event at church.
Q: What do you hope fellow ministry wives take away from what you share at “Refresh”?
A: Speaking to ministry wives is like preaching to the choir. I am sure I will not say anything they haven’t heard. However, we all need to be reminded of truth, and we all need to keep certain truths at the forefront of our minds. I pray the ministry wives would leave encouraged and reassured by truth they already know – God has a plan for them, and He will equip them for His purpose. I pray that they would leave reminded of the grace He has extended to us – grace that is sufficient for all of our needs.

2/23/2016 11:25:24 AM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments

2016 NCMO theme: ‘Prepare the Way’ for Jesus

February 23 2016 by Emily Rojas, BSC Communications

In everything we do as Christians, we are called to give glory to God and pave the way for others to come to the knowledge of Christ. This year, the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO) will focus on that fact.
The NCMO theme for 2016 is “Prepare the Way” based on Luke 10:1: “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go.”


“This heart of this theme is that wherever we go, whatever we do, we are supposed to prepare the way for Jesus,” said Richard Brunson, executive director of N.C. Baptist Men, also known as Baptists on Mission. “When we do missions, it’s to prepare the way for Him.”
Brunson said that this theme gives a new light to the idea of service. He said that in the same way that Jesus sent His disciples out to prepare a way for Him, He has equipped all believers with unique skills, talents and abilities to do the same thing.
This theme of “Prepare the Way” is especially relevant because the NCMO supports a wide range of ministries.
God has equipped those who serve in those ministries to serve others according to their gifting – and it’s in this way that the NCMO is a great opportunity to impact lostness in our state.
“In the service that we do, we plant a seed,” Brunson said. “What we’re doing is much more than disaster relief, medical ministry, dental ministry or some other ministry – it’s preparing the way for Jesus.”
Received in September of each year, the NCMO supports various ministries in North Carolina and beyond. The offering supports the 17 different ministries of Baptists on Mission, along with church planting, mission camps, associational projects and mobilization ministry projects.
The goal for this year’s offering is $2.1 million. In 2015, gifts to NCMO exceeded $2.15 million, which eclipsed the giving goal of $2.1 million for the first time since 2006.
“Jesus wants us to prepare the way for Him,” Brunson said. “I think it’s important to help people to realize that there are things that people do and things that people have that God can use.”

2/23/2016 11:11:50 AM by Emily Rojas, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Trump wins GOP, ‘evangelical’ vote in S.C. primary

February 23 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Billionaire Donald Trump easily won the Republican primary Feb. 20 in the evangelical Christian stronghold of South Carolina, strengthening his frontrunner’s status for the presidential nomination.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton defeated Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Nevada caucuses the same day, providing an important victory after her 20-point loss in New Hampshire. The former secretary of state and first lady gained 52.6 percent of the vote, while Sanders, a self-described socialist, polled 47.3.
Trump won all 50 GOP delegates in play in South Carolina, receiving 32.5 percent of the vote. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz finished second and third with 22.5 and 22.3 percent, respectively. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s fourth-place finish with 7.8 percent prompted him to suspend his campaign.


Donald Trump

Trump’s triumph demonstrated that the strength of his appeal to GOP voters stretches from secular New England, where he won by nearly 20 percent Feb. 9 in New Hampshire, to what is considered the deeply religious South.
The success among self-identified evangelicals in South Carolina of the thrice-married celebrity with inconsistent policy positions and a caustic, coarse delivery on the stump nearly mirrored his total among all Republican voters in the state. Two-thirds of GOP voters identified themselves as “white evangelical or born-again Christians” in exit polls, according to The New York Times. Of those, Trump received the support of 34 percent, Cruz 26 and Rubio 21.
How many of the South Carolina evangelicals who voted for Trump actually attend a church service regularly is in question. Reuters polling nationally in late summer showed evangelical GOP primary voters who go to church as little as once a month are half as likely to support Trump (21 percent) as those who attend less often, according to a report by The Federalist.
That distinction between churchgoing and non-churchgoing evangelicals “highlights the shifting nature of the Bible Belt as it relates to nominal, cultural Christianity,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Much, Moore said, “hangs in the balance in this election, from concerns on human dignity, marriage and religious freedom. The next generation must raise up Christians who see themselves as kingdom citizens first and Americans citizens second.”
Barry Creamer, president of Criswell College and professor of humanities at the Dallas school, said regarding Trump’s success among evangelicals, “Probably the starkest indictment against the depth of American evangelicalism is how indistinct its political expressions are from the secular world. When celebrity, profanity, anger and quick speech characterize the preferred candidate among evangelicals, just what is it that identifies them as Christian?”
The political parties next swap states in the nomination process, with Republicans caucusing in Nevada Feb. 23 and the Democrats holding their primary in South Carolina Feb. 27.
The biggest day of the primary election season occurs March 1, when both parties hold primaries in nine states – seven in the South – and caucuses in two. The GOP also will have caucuses in three additional states.
In the race for Republican delegates, Trump has 61 delegates, Cruz 11 and Rubio 10. The other candidates remaining – Ohio Gov. John Kasich and famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson – have 5 and 3, respectively.
With Bush out less than two weeks after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina departed the race, it may be a matter of time before Carson and Kasich also halt their campaigns.
Cruz and Rubio appear to be battling to qualify for the chance to defeat Trump in a head-on, two-man race. His second-place finish in South Carolina, though narrow, lifted Rubio’s hopes of being the survivor against his fellow freshman senator.
Cruz “appeared to lose the most,” said Bruce Ashford, provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, since “he has focused his campaign on winning the vote of very conservative voters and the religious right, especially in the South. If he can’t win the South by a fairly wide margin, he can’t win the nomination. And if he couldn’t win South Carolina, it is difficult to envision him winning the South.”
Bush’s departure from the race likely will help Rubio most, Ashford said. “Not only are Bush’s supporters more likely to vote for Rubio, but Bush’s concession could rapidly consolidate the Republican mainstream, showering [Rubio] with endorsements and donations.”
The GOP primary in South Carolina was “a mixed bag” for conservative evangelicals who seek a president who is “pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-religious liberty,” Ashford said.
“On the negative side, the winner of the S.C. primary seems soft or questionable on exactly those issues, while the candidate who appears to have lost the most, Ted Cruz, is strong on each of those questions,” he said. “The good news is that Marco Rubio fared better than predicted, and he, like Cruz, is strongly pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-religious liberty.”
Regarding the Clinton win in Nevada, Ashford said the result demonstrates the problems for Sanders going forward.
The senator from Vermont “faces unified and determined opposition from the [Democratic National Committee] establishment,” he said. “He seems also unable or unwilling to shift the emphasis of his message depending upon the audience. Ultimately, he has only one idea to communicate – that America is a land of deplorable economic injustice in which the system is rigged in favor of the rich. This message alone will not earn him the nomination.”
For evangelicals, Ashford said, the bad news on the Democratic side is both Clinton and Sanders “are vigorously pro-abortion, reject the traditional view of marriage and are questionable in their support for a robust freedom of religion.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

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Trump, Clinton stumble, evangelicals divide in Iowa

2/23/2016 10:48:39 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

IMB follows CDC’s Zika recommendations

February 22 2016 by BR staff

The Zika virus is not new. The first known case of it infecting a human occurred in Africa in 1952. It is transmitted through a bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, the same mosquito that spreads dengue and yellow fever. Although the infection itself causes only mild symptoms, a rapidly spreading outbreak in the Americas in 2015, associated with a birth defect and neurological disorders, led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the virus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on Feb. 1.


In light of the declaration, the International Mission Board (IMB) Medical Department is following recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to protect missionary personnel serving in countries affected by Zika.
According to a statement from the IMB, the medical department recommended that “pregnant women avoid travel to areas where Zika transmission is occurring and that pregnant women who are unable to avoid travel to areas of Zika virus transmission take the necessary precautions to avoid mosquito bites.”
The IMB is also following recommendations to test all pregnant women, whether they present symptoms or not, who have traveled to areas with active Zika transmission. Non-pregnant travelers from such areas who show symptoms are also to be tested for Zika, dengue or chikungunya virus. The statement affirmed that “all IMB personnel are trained in appropriate steps to prevent mosquito bites.” The WHO Emergency Committee has not placed any restrictions on travel to areas with active transmission of the virus.
Common symptoms include fever, rashes and joint pain, and they only last a few days, according to WHO. However, there has been an observed rise in babies born with microcephaly during the Zika outbreak. These babies are born with a small head and possible poor brain growth which causes developmental disabilities, but no clear causation has been confirmed between Zika and microcephaly. Health authorities are also investigating another possible link between the outbreak and an increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which one’s immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system. Areas with active mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus include Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, Central America and South America, according to the CDC. There is currently no vaccine for Zika.

2/22/2016 1:38:18 PM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Cuba: Obama visit stirs religious liberty discussion

February 22 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

As President Barack Obama prepares to become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years, a U.S. senator has said further steps to normalize relations with Cuba could hinder the advance of religious freedom in the island nation.
Cuban Southern Baptists hold a range of views about the effect of strengthened U.S.-Cuba ties on religious liberty. For example, a Maryland pastor told Baptist Press normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba will enable the latter’s oppressive communist government. A Kentucky minister said closer ties will help persecuted Cuban believers.
Two Cuban-American GOP presidential candidates with Southern Baptist ties – Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – have opposed Obama’s strategy of warming America’s relations with Cuba.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., wrote a Feb. 18 letter to Obama expressing concern over “the United States’ increasingly close relations” with Cuba and India – “nations that have not protected the religious liberty and human rights of their people.”


James Lankford

Cuba, Lankford noted, has been classified since 2004 as a “Tier 2” nation by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), denoting a need for “close monitoring due to violations of religious freedom.”
“I am concerned by Cuba’s lack of attention to protecting religious liberty and human rights,” Lankford wrote. “As such, I request that the Administration reconsider any further steps to normalize relations with Cuba or financially benefit their oppressive government. Since relations have already significantly changed, I encourage the Administration to use this new relationship to encourage the Cuban government to respect the religious liberty and human rights of their citizens.”
Obama announced in December 2014 the U.S. and Cuba would restore diplomatic relations after a 50-year freeze dating back to the beginning of communist rule in Cuba. The president has met twice with Cuban President Raúl Castro, and the two nations opened embassies in one another’s capitals last year. Obama has removed Cuba from America’s State Sponsor of Terrorism list and loosened travel and export restrictions, including a mid-February agreement to reestablish direct passenger and cargo flights between the two countries.
In announcing Obama’s March visit to Cuba, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Feb. 18 the trip will mark “another demonstration of the president’s commitment to chart a new course for U.S.-Cuban relations and connect U.S. and Cuban citizens,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The visit will include, Earnest said, “expressing our support for human rights.”
Lankford, a Southern Baptist, noted his concern that the Cuban government “continues to routinely harass smaller, independent churches” while granting “pockets of permitted freedoms” to Roman Catholics and major Protestant denominations that register with the state.
USCIRF’s 2015 annual report stated “serious religious freedom violations continue in Cuba despite improvements for government-approved religious groups. The government continues to detain and harass religious leaders and laity, interfere in religious groups’ internal affairs, and prevent democracy and human rights activists from participating in religious activities.
“Despite constitutional protections for religious freedom, the Cuban government actively limits, controls, and monitors religious practice through a restrictive system of laws and policies and government-authorized surveillance and harassment,” according to USCIRF.
Cuba’s two Baptist conventions, for example, “continued to report surveillance and harassment by state officials, including receiving death threats and being victims of ‘acts of repudiation.’ The two denominations also reported increased threats of church destruction or confiscation,” USCIRF reported.
Gus Suarez, pastor of Hispanic ministries at First Baptist Church in Laurel, Md., said he agrees with Lankford’s call to halt normalization of relations with Cuba. Suarez fled Cuba in 1963 as an elementary school student and has never returned.
“I am opposed to President Obama’s decision to strengthen diplomatic ties with Cuba,” Suarez said. “This relationship will only help an old sinking communist ship stay somewhat economically afloat. The real beneficiaries are not the common people but the government. I am in agreement with Senator Lankford when he said, ‘Religious liberty is a basic human right and one that is denied to many people across the world.’ Until such time as Cuba makes a real commitment to religious liberty and human rights, there should not be any diplomatic relationship.”
Suarez remembers experiencing indoctrination to the Cuban government’s atheistic worldview in first grade when his teacher told all her students to close their eyes and open their hands. She placed a piece of candy in each student’s hands, then instructed the students to open their eyes and asked, “Who gave you that candy?” When Suarez answered, “God gave us the candy,” the teacher told him God did not exist and that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro gave him the candy.
Despite such religious oppression, Suarez is encouraged by God’s work in Cuba.
“Since 1959 Cuba has been under the communist regime of the Castro brothers,” said Suarez, a member of Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank S. Page’s Hispanic Advisory Council. “I am amazed to see the creativity and faithfulness of the Cuban pastors who are serving in such difficult situations. God is great and powerful, and despite the lack of true religious freedom in Cuba the church continues to grow.”
Page said he “recognize[s] and appreciate[s]” Lankford’s perspective.
“Cuba has been well known to be a persecutor of Christian churches for decades now,” said Page, who has travelled to Cuba and met with Baptists from both of the nation’s conventions. “It is incumbent that we continue to keep pressure on that communist regime so that our brothers and sisters will know that we are standing with them.”
Cesar Perez, director of Hispanic ministries at First Baptist Church in Richmond, Ky., left Cuba in 2001 to attend seminary in Argentina before moving to New York in 2007. He told BP there is religious persecution in Cuba but also a more “tolerant environment” than there was decades ago. He believes normalizing diplomatic relations with the U.S. will further advance religious liberty by removing one of the Cuban government’s excuses for persecuting Christians.
From the time Fidel Castro assumed power, Perez said, “the [government’s] perception was that every evangelical denomination that had strong ties or historical ties with the U.S. could serve as a vehicle for the U.S. to spy or do underground work within the island. That’s why they were so [harsh] toward evangelical work. Now that this same communist government has taken steps to be open to the U.S. government ... they cannot justify persecution or restriction of evangelical denominations.”
Normalized diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba also will open doors for American missionaries and churches to partner with Cuban believers in evangelism and discipleship, Perez, 43, said. He noted, however, that older Cuban believers who experienced harsher persecution than he did tend to view normalized relations between the two nations less favorably.
On the presidential campaign trail, Cruz and Rubio both addressed Obama’s scheduled Cuba visit during a CNN town hall Feb. 17.
Cruz, a Southern Baptist, said his aunt was arrested and tortured by the Castro regime and stated that, as president, he would not visit Cuba “as long as the Castros are in power.” Rubio, a Roman Catholic who sometimes attends a Southern Baptist church, called Cuba “repressive” and an “anti-American communist dictatorship,” stating it should be forced to make political changes before being granted normalized relations with the U.S.
Meanwhile regarding India, Lankford criticized the Obama administration for fostering “an even closer alliance” with India than America has known in the past despite India’s classification by USCIRF as a Tier 2 nation for its persecution of religious minorities. Obama has made two state visits to India, “more than any other President,” Lankford wrote. “Additionally, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton started the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue. Although five dialogues have been held since 2009, none have addressed India’s significant religious liberty issues.”
Lankford continued, “The United States should consider its role and relations with India with caution. While India continues to suppress religious liberty and human rights, I encourage the Administration to utilize the strength of our current relationship with India to support the religious liberty and human rights of Indian citizens of all faiths.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

2/22/2016 1:30:43 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Call it ‘genocide,’ coalition urges Obama on ISIS

February 22 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Russell Moore, head of Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), has again called on the Obama administration to designate Christians as genocide victims at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – this time as part of a broad coalition.
Moore was among more than 110 signers of a Feb. 17 letter to President Barack Obama urging him to categorize as genocide the terrorist campaign of the so-called Islamic State against religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. The communities cited in the letter as victims of genocide include Christians, Yazidis, Shia Muslims, the Turkmen and the Shabak.
The letter, sponsored by the International Religious Freedom Roundtable (IRFR), is the latest appeal to the Obama administration after a mid-November report surfaced that the State Department was preparing to label as genocide only ISIS’ campaign against Iraq’s Yazidi sect. IRFR is a loosely organized group of non-governmental organizations that meets regularly for conversations about religious liberty overseas.
The IRFR letter marked the third time Moore has petitioned the administration not to exclude Christians from a genocide designation at the hands of ISIS. He wrote Secretary of State John Kerry in mid-November to urge him not to distinguish between different groups suffering at the hands of the terrorist group. In early December, Moore and R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, were among 30 signers of a letter calling on Kerry to heed evidence that Christians are targets of genocide and to meet with representatives of their coalition before issuing a decision.
The new IRFR letter came less than two weeks after the European Parliament adopted a resolution categorizing ISIS’ reign of terror against religious and ethnic minorities as genocide. In its Feb. 4 statement, the European Parliament cited a 1948 United Nations treaty that genocide includes murder and other acts with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
  In their letter to Obama, Moore and the other signers state that evidence demonstrates ISIS has shown the intent to commit genocide and performed acts in support of that intent in Iraq and Syria.
These “well-documented acts” include “kidnapping, raping and enslaving Christian and Yazidi women; beheading Christians who refuse conversion; mass Yazidi graves; pillaging and wiping out traditional Christian and Yazidi communities; and destroying places of Christian and Yazidi worship, some of which had been in operation for more than [1,000] years,” according to the IRFR letter.
If the administration does not formally declare ISIS’ campaign as genocide, the letter says, it will have “abdicated its duty and vow to confront the most heinous of human rights violations. ... At this critical juncture, a designation of genocide by the United States would strengthen the actions of the international community and further extend American leadership.”
An omnibus spending bill enacted in mid-December requires Kerry to report to Congress by March 16 whether the persecution in the Middle East is genocide, the letter says.
Moore said, “Thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering targeted persecution at the hands of ISIS. This isn’t just political unrest or a humanitarian catastrophe – it is the systematic destruction of an entire people.”
In a written statement, Moore said his prayer is “the president will come to see the reality of this genocide, and speak and act accordingly.”
Travis Wussow, director of international justice and religious freedom in the ERLC’s Middle East office, said the ERLC is hopeful the Obama administration “will respond to the call of this large, diverse group of faith leaders and take action, condemning the Islamic State with the strongest terms available under international law.”
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International cosponsored a Feb. 17 briefing at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, on ISIS’ genocidal actions. Members of parliament met with international criminal law experts and witnesses to ISIS’ acts of terrorism, according to an ADF news release.
“Now is the time to act,” said Sophia Kuby, director of European Union advocacy for ADF International, in the release. “Officially describing the atrocities committed by ISIS as genocide is only the first step. We need determined action at the United Nations Security Council, including a referral to the International Criminal Court.”
The IRFR letter refers to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s late-December comment there is sufficient evidence to declare ISIS’ campaign is genocide against Christians and other religious minorities.
In addition to Moore, the IRFR letter – signed by nearly 40 organizations and more than 70 individuals of numerous religious faiths – includes endorsements by George Allen, former U.S. senator and Virginia governor; Pete Hoekstra, former congressman from Michigan; Tony Perkins, president, Family Research Council; Chris Seiple, president emeritus, Institute for Global Engagement; Nina Shea, director, Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF); and Katrina Lantos Swett, president, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and current USCIRF commissioner, as well as representatives of religious, human rights and religious freedom organizations.
Among the organizations that endorsed the letter were the Institute on Religion and Democracy, International Christian Concern, Jubilee Campaign USA, Coptic Solidarity and Church of Scientology National Affairs Office, in addition to groups representing various religious and ethnic minorities.
In early December, USCIRF called for the State Department to designate not only the Yazidis but the Christian, Shi’a, Turkmen and Shabak communities as ISIS genocide victims. USCIRF, a bipartisan panel of nine members selected by the president and congressional leaders, tracks the status of religious liberty worldwide and issues reports to Congress, the president and the State Department.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/22/2016 1:21:29 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New book: Homosexuals & everyone else need gospel

February 22 2016 by Annie Corser & Art Toalston, Baptist Press

The gospel demands change for homosexuals just as it demands change for all people, two Baptist collegiate professors write in a new book, Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says About Sexual Orientation and Change.
“If we withhold that truth from them out of fear of offending them, then we don’t love them. We cut them off from salvation,” Denny Burk and Heath Lambert write. “The only way for them to be saved is to receive Christ. The only way to receive Christ is by repentance and faith.”


Burk and Lambert are faculty members at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Burk, professor of biblical studies, and Lambert, visiting professor of biblical counseling who also is executive director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, acknowledge that homosexuality can be an uncomfortable subject to talk about amid the championing of the Bible’s clear standards for sexuality.
In an examination of Ephesians 5, Burk and Lambert challenge readers to consider the depth of their sin and to “humbly confess this reality” as “the only way to experience the full, saving love of Jesus Christ.”
“In place of sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness, [the apostle] Paul tells us to put on thanksgiving,” the authors note. “As same-sex attracted men and women walk the path of repentance toward change, one of the most practical things they can do is to be thankful.... Be thankful for God’s unflinching purpose to make you like Christ. ... God will never waste your struggle. He is sanctifying you. Be grateful.”
The goal for a person who struggles with same-sex attraction is not opposite-sex attraction but to “seek to honor Jesus with their sexuality,” Burk and Lambert write.
Sin is not only a choice, but it is part of being human; it is innate to people’s fallen nature and their distortion as image bearers of God.


Heath Lambert

“There is the thought that sin can only be those things that we choose to do. And that’s a misunderstanding of the way the Bible talks about sin,” Burk said in an interview. “We don’t just sin in our deeds but we sin in who we are. Our nature is corrupted by the fall. Sin is not just what we choose, it’s what we are, and so the choices that we make and sometimes the things we do emerge rather spontaneously from our nature.”
This truth is “foreign to people who are thinking in your standard ‘Well, if I didn’t mean to do it, it can’t be a sin’ or ‘If I was born feeling this way, it can’t be a sin’ or ‘If it feels natural, it can’t be a sin,’” Burk continued.
“Scripture teaches that there are a lot of things that feel natural to us that are sinful, and so we’re not really saying anything new in this book.... It’s the doctrine of original sin, now being applied to the issue of sexuality.”
Lambert said, “Christians talk about sin, we talk about sinful behavior, we talk about sinful desires, but we also are the people who are never allowed to talk about sin without talking about the grace of Jesus.
“We also are the people who understand that all of the sins that everyone struggles with out there are the same sins that people struggle with inside the church house,” Lambert said. “These people are in our number, and the grace of Jesus is available to them.”
Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in a review of Transforming Homosexuality, wrote, “At just over 100 pages and pastoral in tone, the book is easy to digest, while offering a clear and biblical overview of issues pertaining to homosexuality, temptation and sanctification.


Denny Burk

“After defining sexual orientation and surveying the four approaches to same-sex attraction (liberal, revisionist, neo-traditional and traditional), the authors get to the central concern of the book: Is same-sex attraction in and of itself sin?”
Chapter 2, Allen wrote at his jasonallen.com website on Feb. 11, is “worth the price of the book. The authors biblically, theologically, historically and pastorally make the case that when one experiences same-sex temptation as a lustful impulse, even before acting on that sin, it is an occasion for repentance.”
Pastors “tend to err in one of two directions when counseling someone with same-sex temptations,” Allen reflected. “The first is to suggest that regeneration immediately and completely eradicates lustful patterns. This is not true for lustful heterosexual attraction. Why would it be true for lustful same-sex attraction?
“Those wrestling with same-sex attraction will experience transformation at conversion and can know spiritual growth through the work of the Holy Spirit. But conversion is not a sexual disinfectant. Repentance, accountability and the spiritual disciplines lead believers closer to Christ regardless of the sin pattern, including those experiencing same-sex attraction.”
The other error, Allen wrote, “is to suggest that the gospel does not transform, and that one cannot know freedom from the power and practice of sin, including same-sex attraction. ... To suggest one cannot experience victory over same-sex temptation is to understate the power of the gospel and the efficacy of the means of grace in the life of the believer.”
Pastors “must strive to be balanced,” Allen wrote. “We must point all sinners, regardless of the pattern of temptation, to the power of the gospel and the hope it offers. By God’s grace, sinners can, should and will change. But we will not know perfection this side of glory.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Annie Corser writes for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

2/22/2016 1:08:35 PM by Annie Corser & Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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