February 2016

Fatal shooting & murder charge turned him to Christ

February 18 2016 by Jessica Vanderpool, Arkansas Baptist News

When John Eric Schmidt was charged with second-degree murder, no one could have known that within a year, not only would the charge be dropped but Schmidt would be celebrating his salvation in Christ.
Schmidt, 53, of North Little Rock, Ark., was charged after shooting 32-year-old Chad Johnson during what Pulaski County sheriff’s deputies said was a property dispute, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
The incident took place in Graves Memorial Baptist Church’s parking lot in North Little Rock around 6:25 a.m. on July 7, 2015. Schmidt, who has emergency medical training, tried to administer first aid to Johnson, but Johnson died en route to the hospital. Schmidt required medical attention for his injuries in the incident.


John Eric Schmidt, left, was baptized by Graves Memorial Baptist Church pastor Travis Matthews two months after being involved in a shooting on church property in North Little Rock, Ark.

Authorities dropped the murder charge Jan. 8, according to the Democrat-Gazette.
Schmidt’s lawyer, David Cannon, said the charge was dropped after it was determined that Schmidt acted in self-defense, the Democrat-Gazette reported. Cannon said Johnson had choked Schmidt, which had forced Schmidt to act.
In an interview with the Arkansas Baptist News, Graves Memorial pastor Travis Matthews explained that although the event occurred on church property, it did not involve the church. Matthews also confirmed that Schmidt and his wife Amber had been attending Graves Memorial, though they were not members at the time – a fact that changed over the course of several months.
The tragedy turned into a ministry opportunity for Graves Memorial. Matthews recounted that Schmidt’s daughter Felicity had been baptized and was involved in the student ministry and praise team at the time of the shooting, so Schmidt and his wife had visited the church several times to support her. Because of this, the groundwork had been laid for ministry to the family following the shooting.
Matthews said he met regularly with Schmidt, who had become very depressed in the weeks after the incident.
“The shooting really became an opportunity to build a deep relationship with the family,” Matthews said. “[It was] a painful journey but a way God used to bring healing in their lives overall.”
Eventually, both Schmidt and his wife accepted Christ as Lord and Savior and were baptized at the church in September and are now active in ministry.
“I believe God takes the hard things in life, and when we surrender to God and let God do a work, you can see the fruit of God doing great things in those circumstances,” Matthews said. “You don’t want to make light of a horrible situation, but it definitely brings joy to see God bring beauty from ashes.”
The church “has learned to love in a different way and have a compassionate spirit,” the pastor added.
As for Schmidt, he said his prayer has been that the ordeal would be “used for good and as example of the power of God and of love between Christians.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jessica Vanderpool is senior assistant editor of the Arkansas Baptist News at arkansasbaptist.org, newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist Convention.)

2/18/2016 12:18:25 PM by Jessica Vanderpool, Arkansas Baptist News | with 0 comments

Scalia’s legal views said to buttress Christianity

February 17 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Those who criticize the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s method of interpreting the Constitution tend to employ a method of interpreting written documents that not only undermines American democracy, but historic Christianity as well.
That’s the conclusion of some conservative literary and Bible scholars in the wake of Scalia’s Feb. 13 death.
Scalia belonged to a school of constitutional interpretation known as originalism or textualism – which held that the Constitution’s meaning is determined by the intention of its authors, as indicated by their use of grammar, syntax and vocabulary. In contrast, his legal opponents, known as progressivists, believe the Constitution is a “living” document whose meaning can be shaped and altered by modern judges.
Scalia illustrated his view in a 2005 dissent to a death penalty ruling, in which he stated, “I do not believe that the meaning of our Eighth Amendment, any more than the meaning of other provisions of our Constitution, should be determined by the subjective views of five Members of this Court.”


Screen capture from The New York Times
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia believed the Constitution’s meaning is determined by the intent of its original authors.

Karen Swallow Prior, professor of English at Liberty University, told Baptist Press “attempts to undermine our belief in the power and reliability of God’s gift of language” contradict a 2,000-year-old Christian tradition.
“As soon as we begin to think that an author’s meaning is what we make of it,” Prior said in written comments, “the notion that the [divine] Author [of scripture’s] meaning is what we make of it logically follows. Either words refer to things or they don’t. A biblical worldview not only says they do, but it depends on their doing so.”
Denying humans’ ability to know the meaning of written texts with confidence lies at the heart of the so-called postmodern worldview, Prior said, noting postmodern interpretation of documents “began largely in the field of literary criticism and then spilled over into constitutional law and biblical hermeneutics [the study of interpreting texts].”
Prior explained, “In general terms, traditional approaches to literary texts focused, in varying degrees, on the text and its context, assuming (rightly) that an author’s meaning, both textually and contextually, could be understood.” Postmodern interpretation questions “the very structures of meaning ... and therefore an author’s ability to know and express meaning.
“With this so-called ‘death of the author,’“ she said, “the reader imposes meaning on the text as seen in schools of theory such as feminist, Marxism, reader-response and queer theory. These schools of criticism are more about constructing meaning rather than interpreting it.”
David Smolin, professor of constitutional law at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law, said the progressivist view of constitutional interpretation gained prominence following World War II. Progressivists, he said, argue the Constitution’s framers intended it “to embody ... changing views” and that America has inherited from British common law the idea of judges’ rulings “building up” the law.
Progressivists, Smolin said, envision “a building up of law from judicial precedent to judicial precedent. ... That’s how we get a doctrine of same-sex marriage or abortion rights. We start with precedents in areas in the past of parental rights and the right to marry in terms of one man and one woman, and then as times change, we evolve those meanings.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in a Feb. 14 commentary that Scalia’s opposition to progressivism in the legal realm “is directly relevant to the church’s proper reading of scripture.”
“The same liberal theorists who propose reading the Constitution as a ‘living’ and ‘evolving’ text,” Mohler wrote, “also propose that the Bible be liberated from its actual text and from the intention of its authors. Ultimately, this approach to the Bible, common to theological liberalism, denies the authority of God as the ultimate author of the scriptures. It is no accident that liberal theology and liberal theories of the Constitution emerged together in American public life.”
Ben Merkle, professor of New Testament and Greek at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the idea that readers determine a text’s meaning “is contradicted by the very people who argue for it.”
“As we read their books,” Merkle said in written comments, “they desire for us to seek to understand their meaning and not to read in our own meaning.”
Merkle continued, “The best theory, and by far the most practiced theory, is that meaning is determined by the author. The author seeks to communicate and therefore conforms to the rules of grammar and syntax in order to convey his or her message. This approach is really the commonsense approach and what is assumed by most people.”
In studying the Bible, a reader’s goal should be to “determine what type of literature we are reading” – whether narrative, poetry, parable, proverb or another genre – and learn the grammatical and stylistic rules governing that literary form, Merkle said.
“As we approach the biblical text, our goal is to understand what the author meant,” Merkle said. “Thus, if we are studying Paul’s letter to the Romans, we ask ourselves, ‘What did Paul mean by this statement?’ and ‘How would the original readers have understood Paul’s statement?’ That is why it is helpful to study the language and culture of the author.”
As for Scalia, a Roman Catholic, he seemed to realize cultural elites were as likely to scorn an originalist reading of scripture as an originalist reading of the Constitution.
Employing his trademark sarcasm, Scalia told a 2005 audience in Baton Rouge, La., “To believe in traditional Christianity is something else. For the Son of God to be born of a virgin? I mean, really. To believe that He rose from the dead and bodily ascended into heaven? How utterly ridiculous.
“To believe in miracles? Or that those who obey God will rise from the dead and those who do not will burn in hell? God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools ... and He has not been disappointed.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

Related Stories:

Scalia death clouds abortion, religious liberty cases
Scalia leaves conservative legacy, vacancy
GOP candidates: ‘delay’ Supreme Court nomination

2/17/2016 11:50:59 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

James Smith named NRB communications VP

February 17 2016 by Baptist Press Staff

Veteran Southern Baptist communicator James A. Smith Sr. has been named as National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) vice president of communications, effective March 1.
NRB President Jerry A. Johnson, in making the announcement Feb. 16, stated in a news release, “Since NRB is a media association, building a first-class communications team must be our highest priority. Jim Smith’s proven track record as a media leader makes him the right man, at the right time, for all the right reasons.”


James Smith

Smith, 51, has been executive editor and chief spokesman for The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., since June 2013, having previously served at the seminary from 1997-2001, both times overseeing editorial content of the seminary’s publications, supervising the seminary’s news operation and leading public and media relations.
Smith was executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, from 2001-2013, and was the 2011-2012 president of the Association of State Baptist Publications, the fellowship of Southern Baptist newspaper editors. In Smith’s 12 years at the Witness, he emphasized coverage of missions, theology and moral concerns and wrote editorials that took a conservative position on issues within the denomination and in the broader culture.
In his role with NRB, which is a new position for the organization, Smith will lead all communications related to NRB’s mission to advance biblical truth, promote media excellence and defend free speech.
Johnson said Smith’s “expertise in the evangelical world and the Washington, D.C., public policy scene are a perfect fit for NRB. He knows the NRB landscape and has already helped us on special projects, such as the 2015 and 2016 annual conventions.”
Smith was the first Washington staff member of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, serving from 1989-1995, and was director of communications for the Republican Study Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987-1989.
NRB, located in Manassas, Va., in the Washington area, has grown from 150 radio broadcasters at its founding in 1944 to more than 1,200 members with a weekly cumulative listenership/readership of more than 60 million, covering the full range of communications platforms.
Smith stated in the news release that NRB “serves Christian communicators in a way that cannot be done by any other organization. With mounting cultural challenges, NRB’s ministry has never been more vital, especially because of our members’ uncompromising commitment to the unchanging Gospel message that is the only hope for humanity.”
An ordained Southern Baptist minister who has served also in pastoral ministry, Smith holds a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary and a bachelor’s degree from Dallas Baptist University.
He and his wife Linda have two adult children, James Andrew Smith Jr. and Lauren Garner, and two grandchildren.

2/17/2016 11:46:16 AM by Baptist Press Staff | with 0 comments

Human trafficking victims call national hotline in record numbers

February 17 2016 by Gaye Clark, World News Service

Human trafficking victims are reaching out for help in record numbers, according to an advocacy group that operates a national 911 text and phone call center.
More than 1,600 survivors of human trafficking reached out for help in 2015 – a 24 percent increase over 2014, according to the annual report released by Polaris. The organization’s hotline also takes calls from concerned friends, family and bystanders who witness a suspected human trafficking event.
“From the domestic servant forced to work for little pay who required emergency shelter to the young girl made to sell sex online against her will who texted us for crisis support, survivors of human trafficking are reaching out to the national hotline more than ever,” said Polaris CEO Bradley Myles.


The latest Polaris report offers important insight into a problem that often is hard to quantify. The disparity between estimates of trafficking victims and the number of confirmed cases has fueled an intense debate about whether the problem had been exaggerated. The agencies most likely to encounter higher numbers of victims – local law enforcement and social services – are inconsistent in data collection and reporting. And the anonymity of the Internet shields pimps from prosecution while it broadens their reach to buyers.
The Internet also makes victims invisible to everyone except their pimps and johns – until they make a call or send a message asking for help.
In 2015, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) received 21,947 calls, 1,535 online requests, 1,275 emails and 1,472 SMS messages on its BeFree Textline, operated by Polaris. Human trafficking took place in all 50 states. The top venue for sex trafficking was commercial front brothels, and the top industry for labor trafficking was domestic work. In total, 25,696 trafficking cases have been reported through the NHTRC since December 2007.
Greater publicity accounts in part for the increase in calls. Thirty states now require selected businesses, such as strip clubs, motels and truck stops, to display National Human trafficking hotline numbers in prominent places. In Georgia and many other states, failure to do so can lead to fines as high as $5,000. Researchers at Texas Christian University, Northeastern University, and Colorado College published a report last month that found requiring the NHTRC number to be posted in public areas was the most effective way to increase human trafficking arrests. The researchers also found that nearly every aspect of state investment in human trafficking – from training law enforcement to forming a task force – had a significant impact on increasing state arrests for the crime.
Anti-trafficking organizations have tried to make the hotline number more visible for years. One effort has focused on putting bars of soap in motels and strip clubs. The soap’s wrapper asks: “Are you being forced to do anything you do not want to do?” and includes the trafficking hotline. Theresa Flores, 49, a sex trafficking survivor, came up with the idea.
A fellow classmate and his older cousins drugged and raped Flores in high school. They trafficked her for more than two years, threatening to reveal humiliating photos of her rape if she told her parents or called the police. The abuse ended only after Flores’ family relocated to another state. Like many sex trafficking victims, Flores didn’t know where to turn, or who to call.
“They didn’t even have the word trafficking. Whenever I got up the nerve to do something, I hit a brick wall,” Flores told the Detroit Free Press.
And while experts are closer to understanding both the scope of the problem as well as what works in the fight against human trafficking, public opinion on the subject remains conflicted.
“Human trafficking feels overwhelming to people, but the level of concern among people is not equal,” Amy Farrell, author of the Northeastern University study explained. “On the whole, they think it’s a terrible thing, but they don’t know how to fix it and think it should be someone else’s problem.”
Related Story:
Trafficking victim even went to church

2/17/2016 11:39:50 AM by Gaye Clark, World News Service | with 0 comments

Saeed Abedini requests prayer for marriage

February 17 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Freed pastor Saeed Abedini has requested prayer for his relationship with his wife Naghmeh as court proceedings continue in her filing for legal separation.
“I am grateful for marriage counselors who have been helping me but my wife’s relationship with me is not good at this point, so we need prayer that she joins this counseling process with us,” the 35-year-old pastor wrote Feb. 14 in his first Facebook comments since his release in January from an Iranian prison where he had been held three-and-a-half years because of his Christian faith.


The Abedini family

“I see there is a LOVE story between us [supporters] as I went through hardship of imprisonment by you showing your support with sending hundreds & thousands of letters of encouragement and LOVE to the prison,” he wrote, noting “1000’s of cities and countries and locations gathering for prayer vigils, sending gifts to my wife and children.... You created a LOVE story that even Muslims in Iran talked about.”
His wife Naghmeh filed for legal separation from the pastor Jan. 26, the day he returned to Boise after resting for nearly a week at the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove. March 19 is the next court date in the case – a Focus on Children proceeding designed to help parents and children cope with such issues as separation and divorce. She filed the case, she said, to prevent their children, 9-year-old Rebekka and 7-year-old Jacob, from being transported out of state.
“I have taken temporary legal action to make sure our children will stay in Idaho until this situation has been resolved,” she said when she filed the case. “In very difficult situations sometimes you have to establish boundaries while you work toward healing.” As recently as January, she expressed a desire for reconciliation with her husband.
She has accused him of a pornography addiction and spousal abuse, the details of which remain scant.
“Three months ago Saeed told me things he demanded I must do to promote him in the eyes of the public that I simply could not do any longer,” she said Jan. 27. “He threatened that if I did not the results would be the end of our marriage and the resulting pain this would bring to our children.”
Abedini has countered that “much” of what his wife has accused him of is untrue, and said as recently as Jan. 30 that he would refrain from addressing the issue in public and on social media until the family has made “significant progress in private” to repair his marriage, which he has said is under “great stress.”
The pastor had been imprisoned since Sept. 26, 2012, and was serving an eight-year sentence on charges he threatened national security by planting house churches in Iran years earlier. Prior to his imprisonment, he had been under house arrest since July 2012.
He was released with three other Americans in a prison swap amid nuclear disarmament negotiations between the U.S. and Iran. Abedini officially thanked President Barack Obama in a Jan. 26 letter.
“This letter stands as witness that God answers prayers,” Abedini wrote to Obama in a letter posted to Facebook, “because I am able to write this letter to you.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

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2/17/2016 11:34:58 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Oklahoma’s Falls Creek camp dedicates new facilities

February 17 2016 by Oklahoma Baptist Messenger

The newest facilities at the Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center, including a state-of-the-art events center and new lodge, were dedicated Feb. 2 by leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO), which owns and operates the nationally known ministry, founded in 1917.
BGCO Executive Director-Treasurer Anthony L. Jordan noted at the dedication ceremony, “In all, we have completed more than $55 million in revitalization of existing facilities, infrastructure and the construction of new buildings,” including the 7,000-seat R.A. Young Tabernacle that opened in 2007 and the new Mathena Family Event Center, Thompson Family Lodge and Jordan Welcome Center.


Photo by Austin Urton
Donors, staff and key leaders gather in the new Jordan Welcome Center prior to the Feb. 2 dedication of new facilities at Oklahoma's Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center.

“Sixteen years after we began this journey of updating Falls Creek, I am thrilled to announce with the pledges and cash in hand, we have oversubscribed our capital campaign goal, and the remaining debt on the R.A. Young Tabernacle has been paid in full,” Jordan said. “God did it through us. And this has been accomplished a full year before we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Falls Creek in 2017.
“To God be the glory! We stand in awe of what our great God has accomplished through us,” Jordan added. “I do not know how to express to our God how awesome, how amazing, how incredible He is. And, to quote a good friend, I don’t know why our God chose to place His grace and mercy and faith in the old Arbuckle Mountains of Oklahoma in a little dusty place called Falls Creek.”
The largest addition, the Mathena Family Event Center, was entirely underwritten by the Mathena family of Oklahoma City. The multi-use facility features multiple customizable meeting spaces, a large hall with state-of-the-art audio visual equipment and a commercial-style kitchen that can accommodate formal dining for several thousand guests.
The four-story Thompson Family Lodge, entirely underwritten by the Thompson family of Oklahoma City, rivals any upscale accommodations, opening the door to Falls Creek operating as a year-round conference center serving groups of all sizes and all ages.
The 50-room lodge links the Mathena event center to the Jordan Welcome Center, which now serves as the “front door” to the 350-acre conference center, which is approximately a one-hour drive south of Oklahoma City and less than two hours north of Dallas.
Downing Way, also new, funded by the Downing family of Edmond, Okla., is a lighted, landscaped concourse with three walkways providing access from the tabernacle to the event center, the Wynn Center for World Missions and other areas of the campground.


Photo by Austin Urton
The Mathena Family Event Center at Oklahoma's Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center offers a commercial style kitchen that can accommodate formal dining for several thousand guests.

“These facilities are unlike anything that’s ever been at Falls Creek,” said Jason Langley, the facility’s director. “We’re known widely for being a place for young people in the summer. With these new buildings coming online, our guests are going to know we’re working toward meeting their needs throughout all seasons and for all ages.”
The Jordan Welcome Center (JWC), as Falls Creek’s new main office and lobby for the Thompson Family Lodge, provides comfortable space, including a 1,800-square-foot patio, for guests utilizing the conference center or checking in for their event.
The BGCO board of directors named the welcome center for Anthony Jordan and his family and extended family in September 2013. Jordan has led the Oklahoma convention since 1996.
Jason Langley, BGCO conference centers director, in a recap of the scope of Falls Creek’s ministry, noted, “The Lord has blessed us.... The camp season begins with two sessions of Associational Children’s Camp with a combined registration of 6,000. Then Falls Creek hosts eight weeks of Student Camp with a combined registration over 50,000 every year. The camp season ends with the largest Native American gathering in the United States in Indian Falls Creek with over just over 2,000 registered every year. In conference season, Falls Creek hosts three larger retreats registering around 2,500 per event. In total, Falls Creek hosts 70,000 in retreats, conferences and camps every year.”
The conference center staff is currently taking lodging reservations for the coming summer and is booking events well into 2017. For information on taking a tour, pricing, availability or any future event needs, contact Falls Creek’s guest relations staff at (580) 369-2101 or email Jordan Anson at janson@bgco.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the staff of the Baptist Messenger at baptistmessenger.com, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.)

2/17/2016 11:28:06 AM by Oklahoma Baptist Messenger | with 0 comments

GOP candidates: ‘delay’ Supreme Court nomination

February 16 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Republican presidential hopefuls agreed during a Feb. 13 debate that much is at stake in the nomination of a Supreme Court justice to succeed the late Antonin Scalia, who died earlier that day. Most said they believe his successor should be nominated by the next president.
The Greenville, S.C., debate opened with a moment of silence in Scalia’s honor, and the first segment was devoted to discussing the Supreme Court, a topic to which the candidates returned three additional times.
Scalia’s death “underscores the stakes of this election,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said, referencing the fact the next justice selected likely will break a 4-4 tie between the court’s liberal and conservative wings. Later, Cruz added, “Two branches of government hang in the balance.”
“We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that will strike down every restriction on abortion adopted by the states,” Cruz said. “We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that will reverse the Heller decision, one of Justice Scalia’s seminal decisions that upheld the Second Amendment right to keep and to bear arms. We are one justice away from a Supreme Court that would undermine the religious liberty of millions of Americans.”


YouTube screen capture
Republican presidential candidates said during a Feb. 13 debate the next president should appoint a successor to the late Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia.

Five of the six candidates – Cruz, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and businessman Donald Trump – explicitly expressed their preference that a new justice not be nominated or confirmed until the next president begins his or her term in January. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said President Barack Obama should adopt a “consensus orientation” toward his nomination but added he does not expect that to occur. Bush spoke as though he expects the next president to nominate Scalia’s successor though he did not state that explicitly.
Cruz and Trump were the only candidates to name specific individuals they believed would make good Supreme Court nominees.
Cruz said he would have nominated former federal appellate Judge Michael Luttig to fill the 2005 vacancy for which Chief Justice John Roberts was nominated. A George H.W. Bush appointee to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Luttig was interviewed by George W. Bush in 2005 when the younger Bush was attempting to fill two Supreme Court vacancies. Luttig clerked for Scalia when the latter was a federal appellate judge, and Cruz clerked for Luttig.
Trump, in responding to a question about nominating justices, said federal judges Diane Sykes and Bill Pryor are “fantastic people.” Sykes, a former justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, was nominated by George W. Bush to the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor was appointed by George W. Bush to the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2004 congressional recess appointment after Senate Democrats initially blocked his confirmation. Pryor previously had called the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade abortion decision “the worst abomination in constitutional law history,” according to a transcript of his 2003 confirmation hearing.
Cruz and Rubio said Senate confirmation of any nominee put forward by Barack Obama would mark a departure from an 80-year precedent of Supreme Court justices not being nominated and confirmed during presidential election years.
The fact-checking website Politifact.com stated it has been 76 years since a Supreme Court justice was nominated and confirmed in an election year. However, the experts interviewed by Politifact argued that is more of a coincidence than a political tradition. On three previous occasions, a justice was nominated and confirmed in a presidential election year, according to Politifact.
Among the candidates’ other statements on the Supreme Court vacancy:

  • Bush said he would nominate justices “that have a proven record in the judiciary.”

“The problem in the past,” Bush said, “has been we have appointed people thinking you can get it through the Senate because they didn’t have a record. And the problem is that sometimes we’re surprised. The simple fact is the next president needs to appoint someone with a proven conservative record, similar to Justice Scalia.”

  • Carson said “the whole concept of lifetime appointments ... probably needs to be looked at pretty carefully at some point” because the average age of death when the Constitution was written was “under 50.” Because of relatively short lifespans at the time, “the whole concept of lifetime appointments for Supreme Court judges and federal judges was not considered to be a big deal.”

  • Cruz charged that “if Donald Trump is president, he will appoint liberals” to the Supreme Court. Cruz based his charge on the assertion that Trump has contributed to the political campaigns of liberals, and “nobody who cares about judges would contribute to John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid.”

In response, Trump noted Cruz voted to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts, who, Trump said, “twice approved Obamacare.”

  • Kasich said his preference is that Obama not nominate a replacement for Scalia and that that “the next president of the United States decide who is going to run the Supreme Court, with a vote by the people of the United States of America.” If Obama “were to nominate somebody,” Kasich said, “let’s have him pick somebody that’s going to have unanimous approval and such widespread approval across the country that this could happen without a lot of recrimination.”

  • Rubio praised Scalia for his philosophy of interpreting the Constitution according to the meaning intended by its original authors.

Scalia was “someone who defended consistently the original meaning of the Constitution, who understood that the Constitution was not there to be interpreted based on the fads of the moment, but it was there to be interpreted according to its original meaning,” Rubio said. “Justice Scalia understood that better than anyone in the history of this republic.”
Rubio specifically praised Scalia’s dissent from the court’s ruling last year legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

  • Trump urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “do something about” Obama’s anticipated attempt to nominate a Supreme Court justice this year. “It’s called delay, delay, delay,” Trump said.

In related news, both Democrats running for president released statements on Scalia’s death.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Scalia a “dedicated public servant who brought energy and passion to the bench.” She went on to say, “The Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail who are calling for Justice Scalia’s seat to remain vacant dishonor our Constitution. The Senate has a constitutional responsibility here that it cannot abdicate for partisan political reasons.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “While I differed with Justice Scalia’s views and jurisprudence, he was a brilliant, colorful and outspoken member of the Supreme Court. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his colleagues on the court who mourn his passing.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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2/16/2016 2:06:47 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Scalia death clouds abortion, religious liberty cases

February 16 2016 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia not only brings about a battle over replacing him and elevates the Supreme Court as an issue in the presidential election, but it likely will affect important cases about life and liberty in this term.
Scalia, 79, was found dead in his room the morning of Feb. 13 while on a quail hunting trip at a west Texas resort. He reportedly died in his sleep.
While President Barack Obama and the Republican majority quarrel over whether the Senate will act to confirm whomever he nominates, the eight remaining justices will be considering cases left in this term. The even number of court members offers the possibility, even probability, of tie votes.
One of the highly significant cases that potentially could result in a tie vote involves abortion, and another impacts religious freedom. The high court will hear oral arguments March 2 regarding a Texas law regulating abortion doctors and clinics. Oral arguments are scheduled March 23 in a challenge to the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate to religious nonprofit organizations under the Affordable Care Act.


Associate Justice Antonin Scalia

A 4-4 tie in either case – or any other case – would result in the lower court’s decision remaining in effect in its jurisdiction. The possibility of the Supreme Court rearguing 4-4 cases after a ninth justice has joined the court – something that has been done at times in the past – has been raised as well.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), acknowledged the gravity of Scalia’s loss and its timing.
“His death comes at a time when so much hangs in the legal balance, especially on questions of religious freedom,” Moore said. “Antonin Scalia was more than a brilliant jurist. He was a man of conviction who stood, often alone, for the permanent things.”
The ERLC addressed both the Texas and health care cases in friend-of-the-court briefs. The ERLC joined the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and others in urging the justices to affirm a Texas measure that requires an abortion doctor to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital in case a woman needs emergency admission. The law also mandates that abortion clinics must meet the health and safety standards of other walk-in surgical centers. The Missouri Baptist Convention also has filed a brief supporting the Texas law.
Meanwhile, the ERLC, the International Mission Board and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – as well as Southern’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr. – are calling for the high court to rule that the abortion/contraception mandate violates religious freedom. The regulation – issued in support of the 2010 healthcare law – requires employers to provide for their workers not only contraceptives but drugs and devices that can potentially cause abortions. Debilitating fines face those who refuse to abide by the requirement.
A 4-4 tie in the Texas abortion case would result in a pro-life victory for part of the country because the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the state law. The appeals court opinion would remain in effect in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, the states that make up the Fifth Circuit.
A tie vote in the abortion/contraception mandate case would produce a defeat for religious liberty, as well as, in effect, the sanctity of human life. The Supreme Court consolidated seven different cases in which Southern Baptist institutions and others challenged the mandate. All the challengers lost at the appellate level, so the rulings against them would stand in those circuits.
Among the challengers of the abortion/contraception mandate before the high court are GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and two of the ministries it serves, Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga., and Oklahoma City-based Reaching Souls International. Other Southern Baptist institutions involved in appeals being reviewed by the high court are Oklahoma Baptist University, East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University.
Pro-life and religious freedom adherents could have expected favorable votes from Scalia, a leader of the court’s conservative wing, in both cases.
Scalia’s loss “is hard to overestimate,” said Michael Whitehead, general counsel of the Missouri Baptist Convention and former general counsel for the ERLC (then the Christian Life Commission). “Justice Scalia’s judicial legacy will be as a stalwart defender of life and liberty – including the unborn and the dying.”
The Texas abortion and abortion/contraception mandate cases “are likely to result in 4-4 ties – or 5-3 losses because of Justice Scalia’s absence,” Whitehead said.
The high court is “not paralyzed,” Whitehead said, but Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy “remains the swingman, deciding whether to break a tie and create precedent or whether to simply let the lower court decision stand, which leaves a conflict among the circuit courts of appeal for awhile.”
Nominated by President Ronald Reagan and confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate in 1986, Scalia championed the judicial theory of originalism or textualism, which calls for interpretation of the U.S. Constitution based on its original intent. This philosophy usually led to opinions that pleased conservatives, but infrequently it did not.
Scalia’s view of the Constitution led him to be an outspoken critic of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion and a supporter of state restrictions on the lethal procedure. He strongly opposed the court’s 2015 ruling that redefined marriage to include same-sex couples. He typically, though not perfectly, defended the right to free exercise of religion.
The clash over his replacement broke out quickly after his death. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said a replacement should await a new president. Obama said he would make a nomination “in due time.” Democrats and Republicans clashed over whether the Senate should vote on a nominee before Obama finishes his term in January 2017.
Despite his widespread influence as an originalist, “history may record Scalia’s brilliant effort as a failed project,” Mohler wrote in his Feb. 15 blog post. “The political reality is that we are unlikely again to see the appointment and confirmation of an originalist and constitutionalist like Antonin Scalia in the foreseeable future.”
Obama is “almost sure to nominate a liberal to the vacancy,” Mohler said. “This sets up a battle royal between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and beyond.
“Given the Supreme Court’s central role in almost every American controversy ... the future of the Court will be central to the presidential election,” Mohler wrote. “It has to be. The stakes for the nation are so very high. Antonin Scalia will be dearly missed and he may be virtually impossible to replace.”
Scalia is survived by his wife of 55 years, Maureen; nine children; and 36 grandchildren.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

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Racial reconciliation: Nev. Baptists ‘being proactive’

February 16 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Nevada may not be the first place that comes to mind when the topic of racial reconciliation arises.
After all, the latest U.S. Census data reveals more than three-quarters of the state’s population is white. Plus, the Silver State is more than a thousand miles removed from the South – the region of America most known for its need to overcome a heritage of racial prejudice. But Nevada’s Southern Baptists say God is uniquely at work there breaking down racial and cultural barriers.


Greg Fields

Two years ago, the Nevada Baptist Convention (NBC) elected its first non-Anglo president; one of the convention’s largest churches has made secular news headlines for its ministry of racial reconciliation; and the convention’s Ethnic Study Ad Hoc Committee has helped develop new ways to assist ethnic pastors in reaching their communities.
“It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that as a result of being proactive in this area of racial reconciliation, I see great things coming in the future,” NBC President Greg Fields told Baptist Press. “I see a stronger convention. I see greater participation and a desire to come alongside our brothers regardless of race, ethnicity or even location within the state. We see that it’s Christ that has drawn us, and He is our focus.”
Fields, an African American who pastors the multiethnic Nellis Baptist Church in Las Vegas, became the first non-Anglo to serve as NBC president when he was elected in 2014. He said he was not elected solely because of his race, yet race was among the reasons he emerged as “the best man for the job.”
“To have someone of ethnicity, such as myself, serving really opened communication [and] brought to the Nevada Baptist Convention a greater hope for serving among those of ethnicity,” said Fields, who was reelected in 2015. “... In conversations and different meetings, I’m hearing excitement about the direction that Nevada Baptists have taken as a result of my being able to serve as president.”
Nevada Baptists, Fields said, have been for several years working to overcome pain and division stemming from past “injustices” and “the perception of privilege for Anglos [over] non-Anglos” in Baptist life and elsewhere.
“Now that there’s more of an emphasis that there isn’t a preference or privilege within the convention,” Fields said, some Nevada Baptists find it easier to view one another as “my brother” or “my sister regardless of ethnicity.”


‘Something needed to be done’


Screen capture from Vimeo
Las Vegas pastors Vance Pitman, right, of Hope Church and Robert Fowler of Victory Missionary Baptist Church encouraged racial unity last summer at a joint worship service of the two congregations.

Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, helped believers display that spirit of brotherhood last summer following the murder of nine black Christians by a white supremacist at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
When he heard about the shooting, Pitman, who is white, called Robert Fowler, pastor of the predominately African American Victory Missionary Baptist Church in Las Vegas, a National Baptist church, and asked if their congregations could hold a joint worship service to promote racial reconciliation.
“When the Charleston shooting happened, I just felt like something needed to be done,” Pitman said. “And so I reached out to Dr. Fowler and said, ‘Man, what about us doing something joint?’”
Fowler “responded very positively,” Pitman said, “and he even said, ‘Vance, normally when something like this happens, it’s our culture that reaches out to your culture to do something like this. Just the fact that your church reached out to us has got my people very curious and very excited.’”
The two churches came together in late June for a multiethnic worship service drawing nearly 1,500 people. The gathering included local, state and national political leaders and was reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
As part of the service, attendees filled out cards with their names, phone numbers and social media information then exchanged them with people of other races and cultures. The goal, Pitman said, was “to just get to know one another” in the “regular rhythms of life – lunches, dinners, weekends.”
More than six months later, members of the two congregations continue to report ongoing, casual fellowship.
Division because of overt racial prejudice is largely a phenomenon of the past, Pitman said, but Christians continue to cluster in racially homogenous churches because they don’t feel comfortable in the cultures of other racial groups. That’s why cross-cultural friendships are among the keys to lasting racial reconciliation among Christians – as Pitman has learned firsthand.
For example, he has observed that Hope’s worship pastor, who is black, gets stopped by airport security when they travel together far more frequently than does Pitman. And in discussing sexuality at church, Pitman learned “the talk” refers to something different in white and black homes. For Anglos, it refers to a discussion of sex while in black families the phrase also references a discussion about how young men are expected to behave in public around authority figures.


‘A bag of Skittles’


Kevin White

On any given Sunday, Hope “looks like a bag of Skittles,” Pitman said. The congregation is 40 percent white, 25 percent African American, 15 percent Asian and 15 percent Hispanic, with members of other racial and ethnic groups included as well, according to Pitman’s estimate. In all, the church includes members from 45 different language groups.
That means cultural differences must be considered in worship planning as well as personal relationships. Accordingly, services vary their style to reflect the worship patterns of many different cultures. Some days, worship looks like a Passion concert, others a black gospel gathering and others an international festival.
“I think now we’ve grown to an acceptance of people of other colors,” Pitman said. “But what we haven’t yet done is get to the place of understanding what that different culture represents, their history, what they’ve been through, their experience and what it’s like to be my brother.”
NBC executive director Kevin White has stressed the necessity of understanding other cultures on the state-convention level as well. Working with the Ethnic Study Ad Hoc Committee approved by the convention in 2013, White has conducted listening sessions across the state with pastors of different racial groups.
“We’ve just talked about: How can we engage your community? How can we support your churches? How can we reach people?” White said.
To help reach various racial and ethnic groups with the gospel, White brought a Chilean and a Korean onto the convention’s ministry staff and has worked with churches like Hope to plant new congregations among under-reached ethnic groups. The NBC has planted churches among Iranians and Pakistanis in recent years and has plans to launch a Vietnamese church soon.
‘The nations are coming here’
Such steps, White said, are not optional in a state with one of the fastest growing Hispanic populations in America and 144 different languages spoken in Las Vegas alone.
“I just want to reach all people,” White said. “And the nations are coming here.”
Harry Watson, director of missions for the Southern Nevada Baptist Association, which includes Las Vegas, said that in Nevada’s largest city, there are 52 non-English-speaking congregations which worship in 17 different languages. To reach the 800,000 Las Vegas residents whose primary language is not English, the association is starting more ethnic and foreign-language churches than Anglo churches.
Pitman noted racial reconciliation is one result of believing the gospel.
“The gospel is a gospel of reconciliation,” he said. “And we believe that doesn’t just mean reconciliation with God. That is obviously a major piece of the gospel. But we know there’s been reconciliation with God ... when we begin to have reconciliation with one another.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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2/16/2016 1:48:22 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

DR teams continue work amid Flint water crisis

February 16 2016 by Roger Alford, Kentucky Today

Teams of Kentucky Baptists with expertise in providing clean drinking water to villagers in Third World countries are planning to head to Flint, Mich., next week to install water purification systems for Flint-area families dealing with lead contamination.
Meanwhile, local Baptists continue to distribute bottles of water and offer encouragement where they can.
Coy Webb, head of Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief, said, “We want to bring hope and help. Many people are hurting, and feeling like they have been let down.”
Webb said five disaster relief teams were deployed on Feb. 15.


Photo by Tony Lynn, Baptist State Convention of Michigan
Volunteers provide cases of water to citizen’s of Flint during water crisis.

Lead contamination in the Flint water system has sickened children in a man-made catastrophe that has captured the nation’s attention.
Several local, state and federal officials have resigned since doctors revealed last year that using the Flint River for the city’s drinking water supply caused elevated levels of lead in some children’s blood. Lead contamination has been linked to learning disabilities and other problems.
Flint reportedly switched its water source from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in 2014 to save money while under state financial management. The river water was not treated properly and lead from pipes leached into Flint homes, according to media reports. The city returned to Detroit’s system this past October while it awaits the completion of a separate pipeline to Lake Huron this summer.
In the past year alone, Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief teams have been deployed to Zambia and Mozambique to ensure safe drinking water.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time we’ve been deployed within the United States on a water purification mission,” Webb said. “People in Flint are dealing with a problem that can’t be quickly resolved. The struggle is that this is a problem that could last for months if not longer.”
President Barack Obama has signed an emergency declaration, clearing the way for federal aid to help resolve the water crisis in Flint, where, for more than a year, parents had been complaining that the contamination had been slowly poisoning their children.
The three-person teams from Kentucky will consist of a driver, an installer and a chaplain, all of whom have vital roles to play.
“These teams not only want to give families access to clean water, but they want to give them hope in the midst of crisis,” Webb said.

Local response continues

The Baptist Beacon, newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan, has reported that local Baptists also continue to help those in need.
Over a dozen men and four teenagers from Westside Baptist Church, just a couple miles outside of Flint, recently endured frigid temperatures to distribute water. In less than two hours, water was donated to people in about 70 cars. More than half of 20 pallets of water were provided by the Michigan Disaster Relief Team.
Large tears rolled down the cheeks of Sylvia, a grandmother of four children in Flint, as she received cases of bottled water. Releasing the steering wheel to wipe away the tears, she announced to the four children in her car, “Babies, this is the only stop we’ll need to make tonight. After we get the water we can go home and make supper.”
“Everyone else is giving away one package of water,” she noted. “That’s why I was blessed when [the church] gave more water to families. I couldn’t believe it.”
Talking about the water lead crisis in the city, Sylvia said, “I’m frightened for my grandbabies. The older ones understand not to drink the Flint water, but the little ones don’t understand.”
“I don’t want them to be sick all of their lives because of what happened,” she said, “I don’t know if that fear will ever go away.”
Reflecting on the gift of water from Southern Baptists, Sylvia said, “It reminds me and my grandbabies that God hasn’t forgotten us. Others may have let this terrible thing happen to us, but God has not forgotten us.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roger Alford is communications director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. Kentucky Today is a news resource of the KBC. Contributed to by Tony Lynn who writes for the Baptist Beacon, newsjournal of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan.)

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2/16/2016 1:39:46 PM by Roger Alford, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments

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