February 2017

Pro-life ministry barred again from Raleigh facility

February 20 2017 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

A Hand of Hope Pregnancy Resource Center faced another setback Feb. 13 when the Raleigh Board of Adjustment re-classified the organization as a medical facility, overturning the city attorney’s designation of the pro-life ministry as a civic group, according to The News & Observer.
The board’s designation effectively bars Hand of Hope from operating out of its Jones Franklin Road office, since the residential space must be rezoned for use as a medical facility and the Raleigh City Council denied Hand of Hope’s rezoning request in 2016.
Hand of Hope’s rezoning application became controversial last summer after a standard City Council meeting on the matter became bogged down in procedural minutiae following opposition from A Preferred Women’s Health Center, a clinic specializing in abortion procedures located next to Hand of Hope’s Raleigh office.
The abortion clinic and its supporters, fearing so-called patient harassment, obtrusive picketing and “physical violence,” voiced opposition to the pregnancy center – even objecting to the three-minute limit on discussion.
The council tabled the request after discovering a typo in the meeting time indicated on the notice sent to nearby property owners, who were invited to attend the session.
When the issue was reintroduced a week later, the council voted unanimously to deny the rezoning request, citing the city’s potential to draw higher tax revenue if the street was collectively rezoned to allow for “larger, more coordinated office development.”
In August, Hand of Hope filed a federal lawsuit against the council’s decision, claiming a violation of constitutional First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as a breach of federal law protecting religious land use.
The city attorney rendered the rezoning case moot when he decided Hand of Hope should be designated as a civic group, allowing the organization to operate out of the residential office.
The abortion clinic appealed the attorney’s designation, prompting the Board of Adjustment to make the city’s final decision. According to its website, the Raleigh Board of Adjustment is an eight-member panel that hears appeals, considers exceptions and interprets zoning regulations.
The News & Observer reported the board’s decision came as a 3-2 vote. Four of the board’s members, who are appointed by the City Council, took office after the council denied Hand of Hope’s rezoning request.
Tonya Baker Nelson, Hand of Hope’s CEO, said she is committed to fighting what she considers to be unfair treatment by the City of Raleigh. “Hand of Hope has made every effort to resolve our rezoning issue through city procedures, and we have given the City of Raleigh every opportunity to do the right thing and allow us to occupy our space next door to the abortion clinic,” said Nelson.
“Since they have chosen not to do the right thing, we will seek relief at the federal level through the court system.
“We look forward to our day in court in the fight for the rights of the preborn.”
Nelson said the situation with Raleigh is important because pregnancy resource centers across North Carolina believe a necessary component of their ministry is physical proximity to abortion clinics, places where men and women are making “a pregnancy decision.”
“What the City of Raleigh has done to Hand of Hope, other left leaning, politically motivated municipalities are sure to follow,” Nelson said.
“What’s at stake here are our collective civil and religious liberties. The battle to truly give a voice to the voiceless just got a little bit louder in Raleigh.”

2/20/2017 4:18:26 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Prestonwood escrows CP funds, cites ERLC actions

February 20 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A Dallas-area megachurch has decided to escrow Cooperative Program (CP) funds temporarily in order to evaluate future support of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) causes.

Prestonwood Baptist Church

At issue are what the congregation calls “various significant positions taken by the leadership of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission that do not reflect the beliefs and values of many in the Southern Baptist Convention,” according to a statement the church released to Louisiana’s Baptist Message newsjournal.
Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, will escrow what would amount to $1 million annually, the Message reported Feb. 16.
In a text to Baptist Press (BP), Message Editor Will Hall noted he had queried Prestonwood about its giving to SBC causes after pastor Jack Graham was interviewed in December by The Wall Street Journal. Graham told The Journal the church was “considering making major changes in our support of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
At issue, Graham said in the interview, was alleged “disrespectfulness” by Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell Moore toward evangelical supporters of Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Moore, who publicly opposed Trump during the primary and general election cycles, said in a December blog post he never intended to criticize all evangelicals who supported Trump.
Graham is a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board.
Some Southern Baptists also have criticized the ERLC for joining a friend of the court brief last May in support of a New Jersey Islamic society’s right to build a mosque. The International Mission Board (IMB) joined the brief as well, and IMB President David Platt apologized Feb. 15 for the divisive nature of the action. See related story.
Graham, a former SBC president, told BP via text message Prestonwood is engaging in “an internal evaluation” of its giving, “and our desire is not to seek publicity so we can make the right decision for our church and Southern Baptists.”
Asked whether Prestonwood also will escrow funds for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) – the state convention with which it cooperates – Graham responded, “We’re evaluating everything.”

Jack Graham

Graham told the Message he is “not angry at the SBC, and neither are our people, and I’m not working to start a movement to fire anyone.” He wants Prestonwood to remain “a cooperating partner [with the SBC] as we have been for many years” but cited “uneasiness” among church leaders about the “disconnect between some of our denominational leaders and our churches.”
SBTC executive director Jim Richards told BP in a statement, “In our fellowship of churches, Prestonwood Baptist Church has been a faithful ministry partner for many years. We love Jack Graham and his people. It is our hope that these concerns can be resolved in a way that strengthens the kingdom work of Southern Baptists and honors the autonomy of the local church. We stand ready to assist as we have opportunity.”
ERLC President Russell Moore told Baptist Press in a statement, “I love and respect Jack Graham and Prestonwood Baptist Church. This is a faithful church with gifted leaders and a long history of vibrant ministry working and witnessing for Christ.”
Bart Barber, a Texas pastor who serves on the ERLC’s Leadership Council tweeted following Prestonwood’s announcement, “I love and appreciate” Jack Graham “but am an ardent advocate for #ReligiousLiberty and for” CP. “I’m just heartbroken & conflicted.”
In related news, First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn., announced last month it would escrow funds traditionally given through CP over concerns related to ERLC and IMB participation in the New Jersey mosque brief. First Baptist pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November over the brief. See related story.
The Biblical Recorder asked Haun why the church chose to withhold funds rather than voice opposition through more traditional methods, such as messenger-proposed resolutions or motions at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting.
“Our people were absolutely bewildered and outraged by the action of the IMB. We believe that what constitutes us a Southern Baptist church is our decision to cooperate in joint missions efforts through our giving. This act was so egregious in the eyes of myself and our members that they no longer wanted money to go to support the administration of the IMB or the ERLC,” said Haun. “We did go ahead and take up our annual [Lottie Moon Christmas Offering] however, due to the fact that our missionaries were not involved with this action.
“We believed that resolutions ‘talk’ but it is our giving that ‘walks’ so to speak.”
Morristown decided to hold the money on the recommendation of a church committee appointed to study the matter.
“They recommended that we escrow the funds so that we could make a non-emotional and prayerful decision and see what would happen in the future,” Haun said. “This would allow us to still have the funds available and not spend them on other items. They presented this plan to the church at a called business meeting on the Sunday night of Nov. 5 and it was passed unanimously.”
When asked similar questions about the nature and process of their decision, Prestonwood did not comment by the time of publication.
Louisiana Baptist Convention executive director David Hankins and former SBC Executive Committee chairman Bill Harrell both told The Wall Street Journal they know of churches considering a diversion of funds away from the ERLC.
Threats to escrow CP funds have occurred periodically in SBC history. In the mid-1980s, some Southern Baptist conservatives threatened to escrow CP funds if moderates regained control of the convention presidency, BP reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BR Editor K. Allan Blume contributed to this report.)

Related articles:
Gaines Q&A: from Trump to prayer for revival
Platt apologizes for ‘divisive’ IMB amicus brief
Tennessee pastor resigns as IMB trustee

2/20/2017 4:17:09 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

House votes to annul rule protecting Planned Parenthood

February 20 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. House of Representatives acted Feb. 16 to rescind a two-month-old rule from the Obama administration that effectively restricts states from prohibiting funds for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.

Photo credit

The House voted 230-188 for House Joint Resolution 43, which disapproves of the rule and renders it without effect. Representatives took the action under Congress’ authority to review agency rulemaking – in this case, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Five weeks before President Obama left office, HHS issued in mid-December the rule regarding the Title X program, which provides federal funds to states for family planning and preventive health services.
The HHS rule appears most beneficial to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). In recent years, at least 12 states have cut money for Planned Parenthood, some in the wake of various scandals uncovered regarding the country’s No. 1 abortion provider. Courts have blocked those actions in some cases, thereby enabling the organization to continue to receive government funds.
The legislation – passed nearly in a party-line vote with Republicans in the majority – must gain approval in the Senate before it can go to President Trump.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore applauded House leaders “for keeping the currency and consciences of American citizens free from bureaucratic control, and I urge Senate leadership to move in like manner without delay.”
“The facts are clear: When states decide to direct federal monies away from the nation’s largest abortion provider and toward the funding of community health centers, access to healthcare services increases,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in written comments for Baptist Press. “The federal government has the right to do many things, but forcing states to allocate taxpayer monies in support of abortion is not one of them.”
Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said in a written statement, “States deserve the freedom to choose how and where their taxpayer dollars are spent and they should have the right to prevent taxpayer dollars from supporting abortion providers, particularly when community health centers provide the same services and outnumber abortion clinics” by 20 to 1.
While opponents of the HHS rule commended the House vote, Planned Parenthood decried it.
“Extremists in Congress are trying to make it easier for state politicians to take away people’s health care – specifically, the 4 million people who rely on Title X for birth control and other care,” said PPFA President Cecile Richards in a written release. “This is wrong, and it’s not what the American people want.”
The bill’s sponsor – Republican Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee – denied the measure would defund Planned Parenthood, cut Title X spending or limit abortion rights.
“[W]e are simply voting today to affirm the right of states to fund the healthcare providers that best suit their needs, without fear of reprisal from their own federal government,” Black said in a floor speech before the House vote.
The new HHS rule does not explicitly block states from providing Title X funds to abortion providers. Instead, it bars states from basing the selection of a recipient organization on anything other than “its ability to provide Title X services.” As a result, states would be unable to block funds from going to organizations simply because they provide abortions.
According to federal law, Title X funds cannot be used for the performance of abortions, but pro-life advocates point out grants to Planned Parenthood and similar providers free up other funds for use in performing abortions.
Planned Parenthood affiliates performed 323,999 abortions during 2013-14, the most recent year for which statistics are available. PPFA and its affiliates received $553.7 million in government grants and reimbursements, according to its latest annual financial report (2014-15).
Congress is threatening to use the reconciliation process to cut about 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding and direct it to federally qualified health centers that do not perform abortions. A reconciliation bill enables the Senate to approve a budget-related measure with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster. Both the Senate and House passed such a reconciliation proposal last year, but Obama vetoed the bill.
The ERLC is conducting an online advertising campaign to rally support for the congressional effort to slash federal dollars for Planned Parenthood. The effort is the first of its kind by the ERLC and includes a digital petition for delivery to congressional leaders. The petition is available for signing at erlc.com/initiatives/defund-planned-parenthood.
In the House’s Feb. 16 roll call, two Democrats – Reps. Dan Lipinski of Illinois and Collin Peterson of Minnesota – joined 228 GOP members in the majority. Two Republicans – Reps. Charles Dent of Pennsylvania and John Faso of New York – voted with 186 Democrats against the bill.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)
2/20/2017 4:13:05 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Canadian pastor finds new flock with The Gathering

February 20 2017 by Jim Burton, North American Mission Board

John D’Antonio’s family knew that his four-year battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, would soon be over. Many of his Italian-Canadian family and friends had gathered in his Windsor hospital room to say goodbye to the 30-year-old father and husband.

NAMB photo by Gary Gnidovic
Garth Leno serves as senior pastor of The Gathering in Windsor, Ontario. Leno, his wife, Patty, and daughter, Jamie, are North American Mission Board 2017 Week of Prayer missionaries.

Just before John’s diagnosis four years earlier, his family had moved next door to Garth and Patty Leno. Leno was the pastor of one of Windsor’s largest churches, and John’s mother, Italian immigrant Elena, was a faithful member. On this most difficult of days, the family called Leno. Leno arrived at the Windsor hospital around 11 p.m. and entered a packed hospital room.
The family had requested a reduction in morphine so that John could communicate with them.
John’s wife, Mary Anne, gave permission for Leno to be alone with her husband. “Could I just have the room with John for a few minutes, please,” Leno had asked.
John couldn’t talk and he was having trouble breathing.
“John, if you can hear me just squeeze my fingers,” Leno said, then felt pressure from John’s weakened hands. “John, I’m not going to waste any time because there is no time to waste. I just want to talk to you about heaven.”
Leno then explained the gospel, God’s grace toward us, the plan of salvation and that it’s available to any man or woman at any stage of life. “Do you believe this?”
John squeezed Leno’s hand. “Can I pray with you and for you to trust in Christ alone for your salvation?”
John again squeezed Leno’s hand.
When Leno said “Amen,” the room was full again. One by one, family and friends had slipped quietly back into the room, standing behind him. They heard John’s declaration of faith through the prayer.
As the senior pastor of a large church in the city, Leno could have dispatched any one of his 20 staff members to the hospital that night. Now the pastor of a Canadian National Baptist Convention church plant called The Gathering, he has only two additional staff.
“One of the most delightful things that has happened to me is that I’ve rediscovered what shepherding is all about,” Leno said of The Gathering. “When you are planting a church and making disciples, you get to see life-change happen up close. I wouldn’t change that for anything. Church planting has helped me rediscover what it means to be a shepherd and really take care of the flock.”

A shepherd without a flock

Garth and his wife, Patty, spent more than 30 years serving churches in a denomination that began to alter important doctrinal positions and has seen no net gains in Canadian churches in many years. Then, during a three-month sabbatical, struggles within the church erupted that eventually led to Leno’s departure.
He could have turned in any number of directions. The child of an alcoholic mother and a “weekend drunk” father, he grew up feeling rejected and lonely. Despite his genetic predisposition for alcoholism, he joined other teenagers as a high school student and began getting drunk on weekends.

NAMB photo by Gary Gnidovic
The Gathering senior pastor Garth Leno, right, and associate pastor Phil Siebenmorgen, left, baptize Nathan Langlois during a July 10, 2016, church service, which included more baptisms and a baby dedication. Leno and his wife, Patty, are North American Mission Board 2017 Week of Prayer missionaries.

“The shadows grew very long and I lost my way,” Leno said.
After high school, he met a girl from a Christian home. As he spent time with the family, he saw parents who were “rock-solid believers in Jesus,” and he knew they had something he wanted. After 13 months, the girl’s mother explained the plan of salvation.
“That afternoon I trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior,” Leno said of his 1976 decision.
More than 35 years later, he found himself in yet another lonely place. He never expected that church planting would be so difficult and isolating. With his wife, Garth started a Saturday night Bible study mostly with people who were “disillusioned with church.” What started in their home in September 2013 soon moved to a local golf clubhouse, and before long they had outgrown the place.
“Maybe we should start a church,” Leno joked one evening. He did not expect the overwhelming response. Everyone agreed they should. Someone said, “Whenever you are ready, we are ready.”
When their close friends made that offer, Patty began sobbing as wounds from their last church were still fresh.
“Seriously – planting a church was the last thing we wanted to do,” Garth said. “But it was obviously the first thing that God had in mind for us.”
Leno had no job leads – secular or ministerial – when he met Wayne Parker, pastor of Merriman Road Baptist Church in Garden City, Michigan, just across the Detroit River from Windsor, the southernmost city in Canada.
Parker is the North American Mission Board (NAMB) Send Detroit City Missionary, and he was collaborating with a Plant Midwest seminar. Parker knew about Leno’s Bible study and had one question, “How can we help you?”
Leno wasn’t sure what help Parker could offer, but he was quite sure he didn’t want to associate with another denomination.
Yet Leno also connected with Andrew Lamme, the Canadian National Baptist Convention’s lead church planting catalyst for Southern Ontario. Multiple telephone calls of encouragement to the Leno’s soon followed, along with emails and offers of help, something they rarely received in more than 30 years with the other denomination. He also began to receive valuable resources, training and mentoring through the NAMB’s Send North America initiative and other Southern Baptist church planters.
With counsel from Parker, Lamme and others, and an affiliate with Canadian convention, Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® (AAEO) funds soon helped Leno and his following of “disengaged and disenfranchised” people secure and renovate a warehouse for The Gathering.
The Gathering is also part of Send Detroit, NAMB’s church planting strategy for the metro area surrounding the city.

An atypical church plant

Leno now knows that The Gathering was an atypical church plant as the core group had already gathered. Though he has a lifetime of pastoral experience, he’s now an enthusiastic student of church planting, even working toward a master’s degree in church planting at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.
“I’m learning as much as I can about church planting,” Leno said. “I’m like a sponge.”
He’s learning about creating an invitational culture, sparking evangelism, transformational discipleship, hosting summer camps and mobilizing mission teams to help The Gathering conduct the camps. “We’re talking about intentionally engaging this city with the gospel,” Leno said.
God is doing something so special among his weekly 220 attendees that one senior pastor from a large sending church in Tennessee said, “I’d like to take some of The Gathering back home.”
Garth and Patty modeled hospitality with the Bible studies that started in their home, and that value shows at The Gathering.
With Elena Sorrentino taking the lead, The Gathering Place is the church’s coffee and snack area at the back of the warehouse-turned-worship center where people hang out after services and talk, which delights Leno’s shepherding heart.
Starting a Baptist church may have been foreign to Leno several years ago, but his church is on board now, particularly with missions giving.
In its first year, The Gathering collected $9,350 for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® (AAEO) for North American missions.
The second year resulted in more than $13,000 given to North American Missions through AAEO.
The Gathering is now assisting other church plants and plans to sponsor one soon in a nearby town. The shepherd loves his flock and wants his church to be a church planting church.
Meanwhile, he enjoys the changes God has allowed him to experience through church planting. “I have become much more kingdom-focused,” Leno said.
“I’ve become much more gospel centered. Discipleship is key.  Prayer has become more valuable to me. It’s a more important tool in the toolkit than it has ever been before.”
Garth and Patty Leno are AAEO Week of Prayer Missionaries for NAMB. Half of the funding NAMB receives to support, train and resource North American missionaries comes through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. Learn more at AnnieArmstrong.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a photojournalist and writer based in Atlanta. He formerly served Southern Baptists as the director of Volunteer Mobilization and Mission Education with the North American Mission Board.)

2/20/2017 4:12:42 PM by Jim Burton, North American Mission Board | with 0 comments

Micah Fries wants N.C. leaders to rethink disciple-making

February 20 2017 by BSC Communications

Micah Fries serves as senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., and is a frequent church and conference speaker.

Fries will be speaking at the 2017 N.C. Baptist Disciple-Making Conference on Feb. 27 at Center Grove Baptist Church in Clemmons. He will also be participating in a disciple-making panel discussion at the event.
Fries recently took time to answer some questions that provide a preview of what he’ll be sharing at the conference.
Q: As a pastor, how do you balance the demands of ministry while maintaining a commitment to personal disciple-making?
A: I assume that personal disciple-making is part of the demands of ministry. I think Ephesians 4 outlines for pastors an expectation that they be personally invested in developing others. I consider myself to be failing if I’m not personally helping to disciple others. 
Q: What role do relationships and community play in the disciple-making process?
A: I think relationships and community are the primary ways we are discipled. I think a western culture/mindset is the only place where we might assume that discipleship can happen outside of community. I think the church, in particular, is both the explicit and implicit model for making disciples across the New Testament.
We sometimes hear people say things like, “I love Jesus, just not the church.” Or, “I can worship God on my own.” How would you respond to such statements, and how do those types of sentiments hinder disciple-making?

Micah Fries

I would say that they are shaped more by western culture than they are by biblical Christianity. There is no concept in scripture of Christians who grow apart from the local church. It is completely outside the bounds of the biblical record. 
Q: We’re excited to have you at this year’s Disciple-Making Conference. What do you hope attendees might take away from your presentation?
A: More than anything, I want pastors and church leaders to rethink their understanding of personal disciple-making. I want them to understand that doing ministry is not our vocational responsibility but is instead our familial responsibility, and that developing others is our vocational responsibility.

About the conference
When: Feb. 27  
Where: Center Grove Baptist Church in Clemmons
Cost: Free to attend, but registration is required
Lunch: $7 lunch option is available
Visit: disciplenc.org

2/20/2017 4:12:02 PM by BSC Communications | with 0 comments

World Relief announces layoffs, office closings

February 17 2017 by Liz Tablazon, BR Staff Writer

World Relief is closing five offices across the United States and laying off more than 140 staff members as a result of President Donald Trump’s executive order to decrease the potential number of refugees admitted to the U.S. in 2017, the organization said in a Feb. 15 press release.
Refugee resettlement offices in Boise, Idaho; Columbus, Ohio; Miami, Fla.; Nashville, Tenn.; and Glen Burnie, Md., will cease operations.
One of North Carolina’s two offices, World Relief High Point, laid off five members of its refugee resettlement team Feb. 17, High Point Enterprise reported.
Federal judges blocked the White House from enforcing parts of the controversial executive order, including a 120-day suspension of the refugee resettlements and a 90-day halt on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. However, the courts have not addressed the cap on refugee admissions, Matthew Soerens, World Relief’s director of church mobilization, told The Tennessean.
According to the U.S. State Department’s Refugee Processing Center, the U.S. has already accepted more than 34,000 refugees for fiscal year 2017. Under Trump’s order, fewer than 16,000 refugees can enter the country in the remaining time period.
Because World Relief receives federal funding based on the number of refugees they serve, layoffs and closings became necessary, although the stopgap measures only partially relieve the budget deficit.
Records show the number of refugees coming into the United States has been dropping in the months before Trump became president. Since October 2016, the number of refugees was just under 10,000. That number dropped below 7,000 in January.
World Relief Durham does not anticipate closing but may be forced to downsize if the office does not receive additional funding from churches and donors.
Adam Clark, office director for World Relief Durham, said his branch of the agency faces a unique challenge.
“The Triangle [Raleigh-Durham area] has the highest number of volunteers that want to work with refugees in all of the World Relief network,” Clark told the Biblical Recorder. “Right in the midst of that, we now have fewer refugees to serve than ever and fewer resources to be a bridge organization.”
In the last fiscal year, 618 new volunteers began serving with World Relief Durham. More than 250 churches have partnered with the branch since it opened in 2008.

Now, the lack of administrative funds will make it difficult to facilitate connections between churches and refugees.
The Summit Church in Durham is one of those churches. Todd Unzicker, pastor of missions at The Summit Church, said a volunteer training scheduled for Feb. 18 is at capacity, with 300 expected to attend.
World Relief Durham’s primary concern, Clark said, continues to be the individuals and refugee families they serve.
The cap on refugee admissions not only affects people waiting to enter the U.S., but also those who are already in the country.
“As we scale back, the refugees who are already here will have fewer resources that they can access,” Clark said. “There are less resources we can provide to them, and they’re also being separated from their families. It’s really heavy.”
Zac Lyons, consultant for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Office of Great Commission Partnerships, said in a statement to the Recorder, “Whether our borders are open or closed, God is still sovereign, the task great, and our responsibility the same – that is the Great Commission and love of neighbor. God has already brought many unreached peoples within arm's reach of our churches.
“Will we, as the people of God, obey Christ and share our lives and the gospel with the nations who are our neighbors? No matter what our government does regarding refugees and other immigrants, we as Kingdom citizens must be obedient to the biblical mandate to love the foreigner in our communities.”
To learn more or give to World Relief, visit worldrelief.org/welcome.

2/17/2017 3:05:56 PM by Liz Tablazon, BR Staff Writer | with 0 comments

Gaines Q&A: from Trump to prayer for revival

February 17 2017 by Joe Westbury, Georgia Christian Index

Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Steve Gaines discussed a range of topics of interest to Baptists in a question-and-answer session with state Baptist paper editors during their Feb. 14-16 annual meeting in Ontario, Calif.
The discussion covered President Donald Trump’s first 25 days in office including the refugee crisis; controversial comments by Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore during the election; churches tithing 10 percent to the Cooperative Program (CP) and state conventions splitting their CP receipts 50/50 with national entities; millennials and the future of the convention; and the future of the nation.

Photo by Lonnie Wilkey
Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, fields questions about topics of interest to Southern Baptists, from President Trump to the need for revival, during the annual meeting of state Baptist paper editors.

Gaines, pastor of the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, said he voted for Trump as president, who was not his first choice, having voted for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the primary election. But given the choice in the national election, Gaines cast his ballot for Trump because of the New York businessman’s pro-life stance.
People voted for Trump for a variety of reasons – economic, social, political, Gaines said. But in reference to Trump’s campaign slogan, Gaines noted that the only way to really make America great again is by winning people to Jesus Christ and mentoring them and changing society through the people they influence.
Gaines expressed his approval of nine of Trump’s 16 cabinet choices being Christians, but voiced disappointment with newly-appointed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was instrumental in the Boy Scouts opening their ranks to homosexuality in 2014.
“Overall I’m pleased with the appointments; they are better than what we could have had [with Hillary Clinton],” Gaines said. He also agreed with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s view to interpret the Constitution “the way it was written, not rewrite it.”
“A lot of people like me chose the candidate who was more friendly to pro-life [causes] and marriage between one man and one woman,” Gaines said. “I do not support many of the things Trump has said, especially what he has said about women. But he was the best choice that we had [in this election].”
Gaines said he prayed for President Barack Obama and his family by name virtually every day of his eight-year term.
“I doubt that I missed 30 days during his time as president. I prayed for Michelle and Malia and Sasha, even though most people I know don’t even know his daughters’ names.
“I’m now praying for Donald Trump with that same commitment.”
Although saying he does not understand how God works in the electoral process, Gaines noted that “He raises some up and puts others down. I just want the Lord’s will to be done.”


Concerning the fallout following the issuance of Trump’s executive order on immigration, Gaines said, “At some point we need to understand that God is not an American and is not Republican or Democrat. Christians need to remember that we have dual citizenship, with our allegiance first to the Kingdom of God.
“It’s important to remember that to some degree we have more in common with a believer in a lost country than an unbeliever in our own country,” Gaines said.
“We certainly need to vet people coming into our nation to be sure we are safe from those who would do us harm. That’s why I have locks on my doors at night to keep my family safe.
“On the other hand, I do not want us to be guilty of the European nations who, at the onset of World War II, refused to let refugees into their countries.
“How can your heart not go out to those people who are today fleeing from wars and violence? We need to remember that at some level we are all immigrants to America.”
Gaines said he has “no problem with a wall” on the nation’s border with Mexico but he does have a problem “when we are not compassionate to hurting people who are fleeing intolerable living conditions.”

Election rhetoric

Concerning controversy involving Moore’s political comments during the election, Gaines said he hopes there would be less divisive talk coming out of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
“I hope the kind of talk we have been hearing is not the direction in which we are going. I hope Russell will remain in his position and that we have reconciliation with a lot of people,” he said.
Gaines then spoke of how easy it is to criticize people without talking to them first. He then gave examples of how he kept an open mind during the run-up to the presidential election and was criticized for supporting one candidate or the other when he was only seeking to be informed on the issues.
“My family and I were in New York City when Trump announced his bid for the presidency. I went down to hear him with about a thousand other people; I would have gone if it had been Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. I did not think Trump was the best candidate but I went anyway to listen to him.” To illustrate his open-mindedness, Gaines added, “A few years earlier I met Obama at a prayer breakfast.”
But his listening to Trump that day did not keep critics from complaining about the message he was sending by attending the event. That was unfortunate, he added.

International Mission Board & its court brief

Regarding the amicus brief involving a New Jersey mosque which has embroiled both the ERLC and the International Mission Board in controversy, Gaines said he believes International Mission Board President David Platt would possibly think twice before the mission board enters such a case.
“I know from being a pastor that there are times when you make decisions without asking a lot of people for their input. I know David’s heart; he is a good man. He loves Jesus. And I believe that is exactly what happened.
“You may not agree with his theology but he has no arrogance whatsoever in his heart. I really don’t think he would have signed the document [favoring government permission for the construction of the mosque] if he knew the ramifications.”

Cooperative Program

Concerning the Cooperative Program, Gaines said there is no biblical imperative for churches to tithe 10 percent of their receipts to the Cooperative Program, regardless of how good the SBC missions support program is. Churches today have a number of their own ministries for reaching their communities for Christ, he said, and those ministries should not be sacrificed for giving to the Cooperative Program through their state conventions.
While Bellevue Baptist does not give 10 percent through the Cooperative Program, Gaines his wife Donna are motivated to give a tithe because of the good work they see going on in their community as well as around the world.
He also said he does not feel all state conventions should be pressed to give half of their receipts through the Cooperative Program, as encouraged by the Great Commission Task Force Report in 2010. Some conventions, such as those in the western states, have far less income, he said, and need much of their funds to support their own work in sparsely-populated locales where churches are few.

Looking to the future

Gaines, now 59 and “a long time” since he was a young adult, said he is optimistic the younger generation will become more active in SBC life.
He recounted that he remembered in his early ministry how his spare time was taken up with giving attention to his wife and family; there was simply no time for denominational involvement.
“I did not go to state conventions regularly and was even less involved on the national level, even up to the time when I became president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. But I do believe that this new, younger generation will respond when we older men reach out to them.
“State conventions need to be proactive and reach out, embrace them, cultivate them. You know, it’s far easier to talk about someone than it is to talk to them. When you talk to them you get on their level, you empathize with them. And that’s what it’s going to take.”
Looking to the future of the nation, Gaines spoke about his desire to see revival once again sweep America. He learned through his mentor, the late Roy Fish, professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, that such events occur roughly every 70 years.
“The last time it occurred was the Jesus Movement of the early to mid-1970s. That’s when we as a denomination reported the largest number of baptisms in our history. Many missionaries and pastors and church staff members came out of that movement and changed America. It can happen again, and that is my prayer.”
The next decade will be the most important in the history of the nation, Gaines added.
“Just look at the election we have just been through. America is divided. I have never seen such an election in my 40 years of voting. I am praying for a mighty revival, a movement of God on our land.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Westbury is managing editor of The Christian Index, christianindex.org, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)

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2/17/2017 11:44:27 AM by Joe Westbury, Georgia Christian Index | with 0 comments

Platt apologizes for ‘divisive’ IMB amicus brief

February 17 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt has apologized to Southern Baptists for the divisive nature of an amicus brief the IMB joined last May in support of a New Jersey’s Islamic society’s right to build a mosque.

Submitted photo
David Platt, IMB president, speaks with Will Hall, editor of Louisiana’s Baptist Message, after giving a report to Baptist editors in Ontario, Calif., Feb. 15.

“I apologize to Southern Baptists for how distracting and divisive this has been,” Platt said Feb. 15 during a meeting with Baptist state paper editors in Ontario, Calif.
“I can say with full confidence,” he said, “that in the days ahead, IMB will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission: partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams for evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”
Platt offered a similar apology to executive directors of Baptist state conventions, who met in the same location.
The apologies occurred amid ongoing discussion of an amicus curiae – Latin for “friend of the court” – brief joined by the IMB supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also joined the brief.
In December, U.S. district Judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required the ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for local Christian and Jewish houses of worship.
In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the amicus brief, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.
Going forward, Platt said, missions is “what I long for the conversation about the IMB to be focused on, for the sake of those who have never heard.”
Platt added, “I am grieved how the amicus brief in the recent mosque case has been so divisive and distracting. And my purpose in bringing it up here is not to debate religious liberty, but to simply say that I really do want IMB to be focused on [its] mission statement.”
In the future, a new process for filing amicus briefs is needed, Platt said, “that will involve my office and our trustees.” He pledged to discuss such a policy during a Feb. 28-March 1 IMB trustee meeting.
Platt also told editors, “Going back to at least 2010, so far before I stepped into this role, our ... legal department has filed various similar briefs related to religious liberty. And since 2010, all of those matters have been handled by our legal department.”
Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and a former IMB trustee chairman, told Baptist Press (BP) Platt’s “remarks [to state executive directors] were very well received.”
Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Director Randy Davis told Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal, “I greatly appreciate the directness and humility that the leader of our flagship missions organization demonstrated in meeting with Baptist state convention executive directors. I saw the same spirit in one-on-one conversations with Dr. Platt.”
Davis added, “I am very comfortable from having spent some time with Dr. Platt that this will not be an issue moving forward and that it certainly will be with some level of involvement by IMB trustees.”
Tennessee pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November because he said joining the brief did not comport with IMB’s mission and could be viewed as an improper alliance with followers of a religion that denies the gospel.
Haun’s resignation was reported in several Baptist state papers last month.
Platt told BP in a statement last month, “As a result of discussions among IMB trustees and staff over recent months, we have revised our processes for our legal department filing any future amicus briefs.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – With reporting by Baptist Press editor Shawn Hendricks and Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector. David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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2/17/2017 11:41:10 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 1 comments

Trump noncommittal to two-state Mideast solution

February 17 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

President Trump appeared to back off support for a two-state solution in the Middle East Feb. 15, with some Southern Baptists voicing different perspectives on relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Screen capture from The New York Times
President Trump appeared to back off support for a two-state solution in the Middle East Feb. 15 when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White House.

The United States has officially supported separate Jewish and Palestinian states for 15 years but Trump called that stance into question at a joint White House news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Less than a month into his administration, Trump told reporters he is “looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. ... I can live with either one.
“I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two,” he said, adding, “But honestly, ... if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”
Trump also said he would “love to see” the U.S. embassy in Israel move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His administration is “looking at it very, very strongly,” he said.
Trump’s welcome to Netanyahu early in his presidency served as a contrast with the Obama administration’s actions regarding Israel in its final days.
On Dec. 23, the United States abstained from voting on a United Nations Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the territory west of the Jordan River that Israel gained control of in the six-day war of 1967. The Obama administration could have vetoed the resolution but refused to do so. Five days later, Secretary of State John Kerry strongly criticized Israel in a speech.
In his comments at the news conference, Netanyahu declined to comment directly on the two-state solution but affirmed the requirements for peace he has cited for several years.
“First, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state,” he said. “They have to stop calling for Israel’s destruction.
“Second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River,” Netanyahu told reporters. “Because if we don’t, we know what will happen – because otherwise we’ll get another radical Islamic terrorist state in the Palestinian areas exploding the peace, exploding the Middle East.”
The Palestinians have spurned both prerequisites, he said.
Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said Feb. 16, “Our Lord Jesus is Jewish. Christians therefore should be concerned extremely about global anti-Semitism. Israel was founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust and embodies a safeguard against the virulent violence we have seen over the centuries against the Jewish people.
“The safety of Israel is important, for everyone, as is Israel’s right to exist at all, which is constantly questioned and threatened by enemies of the Jewish state and of the Jewish people,” Moore said in written comments for Baptist Press (BP). “We pray for peace in the Middle East and for those leaders seeking to accomplish such peace with wisdom and justice.”
Netanyahu told reporters he believes a “great opportunity for peace” exists in “a regional approach” that would involve “our newfound Arab partners,” apparently the governments of certain Middle East countries.
At the news conference, Trump told Netanyahu he would “like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
Netanyahu said the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank “is not the core of the conflict nor does it really drive the conflict.” He acknowledged, however, it is an issue that “has to be resolved in the context of peace negotiations.”
Two Southern Baptist laymen expressed divergent views regarding the Israeli-Palestinian discord.
Rich Hastings, a pro-Israel advocate in the Kansas City, Mo., area, told BP he thinks Trump “was not endorsing a one-state solution but rather keeping options open for negotiations. It sends a clear message that he won’t be manipulated or at least that is the argument.”
Hastings said he does not support a two-state solution. For one thing, “the land was given by God” to Israel, he said in written remarks.
Essentially, Trump “spoke Genesis 12:3a – ‘I will bless those who bless you’ – in his meeting” with Netanyahu, Hastings told BP. Trump “accepted the political reality that the prime minister deals with every day with members of his own party pushing a more aggressive establishment of settlements [in the West Bank] and those opposing him within the state of Israel” and the United Nations, he said.
Hastings – a member of First Baptist Church in Raytown, Mo. – travels to Israel once or twice a year to lead group tours or on trade missions. He spent a month last year in Israel, where he taught at the Israel College of the Bible and with Chosen People Ministries. Hastings is the Kansas City chair of the Christian arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Bruce Kugler, a lawyer in Illinois, told BP many Palestinian Christians affirm Israel’s legitimacy but are concerned to acknowledge it as a Jewish state would institutionalize “discrimination against religious minorities, including Christians.”
Kugler – a member of Living Faith Baptist Church in Sherman, Ill., and the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists – expressed concern about the impact of Israel’s settlement expansion on Christians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“How Israel’s policies affect our brothers and sisters in Christ can no longer be ignored,” Kugler said in written comments. “Any expansion must ensure that property is not confiscated from Christians or other Palestinians.... [The] United States may have an unbreakable bond with Israel but evangelical Christians in the USA have an unbreakable eternal bond with Palestinian Christians.”
Christians, he said, “are to love and support both the Jewish people and the Palestinians, for there is no partiality with God,” he said.
During a trip in late 2016, Kugler presented copies of a 2014 resolution adopted by the Illinois Baptist State Association to Christian leaders in Israel and Palestinian territories. The resolution expressed support for the Palestinian church and urged prayer for peace.
Messengers to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention meeting approved a resolution disagreeing with boycott and divestment efforts aimed at Israel. The resolution expressed support for “the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign state and reject[ed] any activities that attack that right by promoting economic, cultural and academic boycotts against Israel.” It also urged prayer for peace and “the salvation of Israel.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. BP senior editor Art Toalston contributed to this report.)

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2/17/2017 11:37:53 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Hawaii pro-life centers fight abortion referral mandate

February 17 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

Hawaii state lawmakers hope to make their state the next to force pregnancy care centers to promote abortion.
Twin bills in the state House and Senate would require the pro-life centers to post a pro-abortion statement in a “clear and conspicuous place” in their waiting areas or give it to women when they arrive.

Facebook photo

The statement reads: “Hawaii has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access to comprehensive family planning services including all FDA-approved methods of contraception, prenatal care and abortion for eligible women. To determine whether you qualify, contact the appropriate Med-QUEST division eligibility office.”
If pregnancy care centers don’t cooperate with the state-sponsored message, they face a $500 fine the first time and $1,000 “for each subsequent offense.”
In addition, women who walk in and are offended by a violation may personally sue the center. The Hawaii proposal is more strict than California’s law requiring pregnancy care centers to promote abortion, because offending centers there face fines but not civil action.
Stacey Jimenez, director of operations at A Place for Women in Waipio, a pregnancy care ministry at Calvary Chapel Pearl Harbor, told me the bills would violate the center’s freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
The ministry offers Bible-study format recovery classes for women who have had abortions, and Jimenez said the bills would essentially make them tell women, “Go out, go harm yourself and come back and we’ll help you heal.”
“We have had women come through our classes who have been infertile as a result of their abortion. And we have had women come through with emotional issues,” she said. “We shouldn’t be in a position to refer out for one of the very things that we offer recovery classes for.”
Women seeking abortion, she said, can search online for an abortion center: “Why do I have to tell them about it? We don't do that here.”
Other state laws requiring pregnancy care centers to post or hand out information on where to get an abortion have faced court challenges with varied results.
In 2014, a Maryland county dropped a case against a pro-life pregnancy care center protesting a law requiring them—but not abortion clinics—to post signs saying no doctor was on staff.
In October, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of California’s Reproductive FACT Act, which requires pregnancy care centers to post or distribute information about where to obtain an abortion.
But in December, an Illinois judge issued a preliminary injunction against a new law requiring all healthcare providers to give out information on where to get an abortion if a patient asks. He called it “compelled speech in violation of plaintiffs’ free speech rights.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

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2/17/2017 11:34:07 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

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