January 2013

Ethnic congregations up 66% for Southern Baptists

January 24 2013 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The number of non-Anglo congregations in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has jumped by more than 66 percent since 1998, according to the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Center for Missional Research.

Just over 10,000 congregations (10,049) of 50,768 congregations in the convention identified themselves by an ethnicity other than Anglo in 2011, the most recent year for which detailed data on ethnicity is available from LifeWay Christian Resources’ Annual Church Profile database.

In 1998, non-Anglo congregations totaled 6,044.

Photo by Susan Whitley

Worshipers sing praises during services at Atlanta’s Blueprint Church. The congregation is representative of the growing trend of non-Anglo churches within the Southern Baptist Convention.

“It’s clear that Southern Baptists have been multi-ethnic and are becoming an even more multi-ethnic convention of churches,” said Joseph Lee, senior pastor of Connexion Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., a mostly Korean Southern Baptist congregation. “The trend is gaining speed week by week. For example, the ethnic churches grew from zero to more than half of the total number of churches in our county in the past 10 years.”

The diversification of the convention comes at a time when the United States as a whole is growing more diverse. USA Today, for example, has reported that the number of all-white communities in the country has plummeted since 1980, according to an analysis of census data by Penn State University’s Population Research Institute. Less than a third of U.S. counties are 90 percent Caucasian.

The largest jump in non-Anglo congregations within the SBC from 1998 to 2011 has predominantly come from an 82.7 percent increase in the number of African American congregations.

For Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans and the first-ever African American president of the SBC, the diversification of Southern Baptists has become very personal.

“I remember at one time I was the only [African American pastor] in my city who was Southern Baptist,” Luter said. “I caught a lot of flack as a result of that. Thank God I’m able to see some of the fruit of my labor – not only at my particular church but in the associations and conventions across the country.”

Hispanic congregations also have seen a significant increase over the same span – nearly 63 percent. The number of Asian congregations affiliated with the SBC has grown by 55 percent.

Because of the nature of Annual Church Profile (ACP) statistics, it’s impossible to know the diversity of individuals within the SBC – only the diversity of congregations.

“We are only able to categorize congregations by ethnicities – not members – because the ACP only asks the predominant ethnicity of congregations, not individuals,” said Richie Stanley, director of NAMB’s Center for Missional Research.

Non-Anglo congregations now account for nearly 20 percent of the SBC, compared to 13.4 percent in 1998. In 1990 about 5 percent of congregations in the convention were primarily non-Anglo.

“We are grateful to God for this diversity,” said Ken Weathersby, NAMB’s presidential ambassador for ethnic church relations. “It is saying that the Southern Baptist Convention is no longer monolithic. The Southern Baptist Convention is very diversified. It is open to all peoples – regardless of ethnicity and race.”

Despite the SBC’s growing diversity, there are still a variety of ethnic groups in North America with no Southern Baptist presence among them. Mark Hobafcovich, NAMB’s national coordinator for church mobilization, points to the Albanian people as an example. There are more than 500,000 Albanians in the United States but no SBC congregations and only one evangelical church among them, he noted.

“As Southern Baptists partner together to plant new evangelistic churches, Albanians and other people in North America can hear the gospel in their heart language, come to faith in Christ and be discipled so they in turn can make other disciples and plant churches here at home and throughout the Albanian diaspora around the world,” Hobafcovich said. “Only by a movement of God can we see biblical multiplication and the Kingdom of God exponentially expanded.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.)
1/24/2013 2:13:53 PM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Imprisoned pastor with U.S. citizenship receives support

January 24 2013 by John Evans, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The U.S. government and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) have issued calls for the release of an American pastor who may face the gallows for spreading the gospel in Iran.

Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-born pastor who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, faces charges of undermining the Iranian government by planting house churches and of trying to turn the country’s youth from Islam, according to media reports.

Abedini’s supporters say he was in Iran last summer to finish building an orphanage when members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard hauled him away in a bus for prison, according to World Watch Monitor, a news service focusing on the persecuted church. Abedini has suffered beatings while in prison and now faces trial before a Revolutionary Court judge, Abbas Pir-Abbassi, labeled a human rights violator by the European Union and infamous for his harsh sentencing – including executions – of students who protested Iran’s 2009 elections.

The U.S. State Department has yet to call for Abedini’s release, although U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor urged Jan. 18 that the pastor be freed.

“We remain troubled by the case of U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, who was arrested by Iranian officials more than three months ago on charges relating to his religious beliefs,” Vietor said, according to Fox News. “We call upon Iranian authorities to release him immediately.”

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government advisory body, also called for Abedini’s release and denounced Iran’s “trumped-up” charges.

“The national security charges leveled against Mr. Abedini are bogus and are a typical tactic by the Iranian government to masquerade the real reason for the charges: to suppress religious belief and activity of which the Iranian government does not approve,” USCIRF chair Katrina Lantos Swett said in a news release, adding that Abedini cannot expect justice in court.

“Judge Pir-Abbassi is notorious for conducting swift trials and imposing lengthy prison terms, as well as the death penalty, without any semblance of due process,” Swett said.

Iranian state media had reported on Monday (Jan. 21) that Saeed would be freed on bail, a report that Saeed’s wife, Naghmeh Abedini, denounced as a lie, according to Fox News.

“This has been a repeated promise by the Iranian regime since Saeed was first thrown in prison on Sept. 26, 2012,” she told Fox. “We have presented bail. After the judge told Saeed’s lawyer that bail was back on the table, the family in Tehran ran around in circles today to make sure Saeed was let out on bail. But again the bail officer rejected bail.”

CNN reported that a trial of Abedini began Monday (Jan. 1). The pastor gave the judge a written statement and answered questions by prosecutors and his defense attorney.

The trial included a hearing – from which Abedini and his lawyer were barred – in which a lay church leader was called to testify about his connection to Abedini, according to a blog post by Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). Questions ranged from whether Abedini encouraged conversion to Christianity and how he financed his trips to establish an orphanage in Iran.

Saeed Abedini

During a conference call reported by CNN, Naghmeh Abedini said she last spoke to her husband on Jan. 9. “He sounded OK,” she said. “He sounded tired. He said he had come to a realization that they would not be releasing him anytime soon. Up until Christmas he had had hope.”

According to World Watch Monitor, Saeed Abedini converted from Islam to Christianity in 2000 and helped start house churches in Iran. He had been arrested multiple times by authorities, but Tiffany Barrans, ACLJ’s international legal director, told World Watch Monitor that in 2009 the pastor made a deal with Iran’s intelligence police. That deal allowed him to come back to Iran to build an orphanage in exchange for staying out of house church work, an agreement his supporters say he kept. But before his latest trip to Iran, the religiously controlled Revolutionary Guard took jurisdiction over Iran’s Christian community from the intelligence police, Barrans said, coinciding with a more aggressive campaign to drive Christianity out of Iran.

Barrans told World Watch Monitor that the U.S. could put pressure on Iran through countries like Brazil and Turkey, which have strong economic ties with Iran.

“We can reach out to multiple countries to just put in an inquiry on Pastor Saeed,” Barrans said. “If Iran takes enough inquiries from friends, they will take notice of Saeed’s case and ensure justice is done, whether that means he receives a fair trial, or they take him out of the Revolutionary Court system, or if they release him immediately.”

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a former USCIRF commissioner, called Saeed Abedini’s ordeal “yet one more example of the Iranian government trampling the human rights of people who don’t kowtow to their dictates concerning religious and political beliefs.”

Abedini’s trial comes as Iran shows no signs of relenting in its persecution of Christians and their defenders. Pastor Benham Irani continues to languish in prison under a six-year sentence for “acting against the interests if national security,” according to International Christian Concern, a Washington advocacy group for the persecuted church.

In addition, Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who was acquitted in September of apostasy charges that could have brought execution, was thrown back in prison for a brief stint – incarcerated on Christmas Day but released Jan. 8. His attorney, however, sits in prison under a lengthy sentence, according to the British religious rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide. Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer who helped secure Nadarkhani’s release, was jailed and disbarred for 10 years in September 2012. Reports indicate his health is rapidly deteriorating.

Abedini’s wife Nagmeh, who lives in the U.S. with her and Saeed’s two small children, told the Boise, Idaho, TV station KBOI of a conversation she had with her husband over the phone.

“It was weeks and weeks before I even heard his voice,” she said. “He shared that he really misses the kids and me and really wants to be home.”

The ACLJ is taking a petition to President Obama, Congress and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging all available diplomatic and legislative means to be used in securing Saeed Abedini’s release. The petition is online at http://aclj.org/iran/save-american-pastor-iranian-abuse-imprisonment.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – John Evans is a writer based in Houston.)
1/24/2013 2:03:36 PM by John Evans, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Luter given Carver Medal for faithful ministry

January 24 2013 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

INDIANOLA, Iowa – Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Fred Luter has been awarded the Carver Medal of Simpson College. The Iowa school hailed Luter as exemplifying the commitment and service of the late agricultural scientist, inventor and Christian, George Washington Carver.

John Byrd, president of the private United Methodist Church-related college in Indianola, recognized Luter as courageous and committed to faith in Christ in the face of challenging obstacles.

“I believe George Washington Carver would have recognized some of his own experiences in the life of Rev. Fred Luter,” Byrd said. “... George Washington Carver knew about facing challenges and never giving up. He was also a man of unwavering faith.”

“Courage and commitment have remained the twin themes in the remarkable life of the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., our 2013 Carver Medal recipient,” Byrd said.

Photo by Luke Behaunek

Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter delivered the Carver Lecture at Simpson College when the Iowa school honored him with the Carver Medal, named for the late George Washington Carver, who began his education at Simpson. “If you continue to be faithful to God, God will continue to be faithful to you,” Luter told the audience.

Byrd recognized Luter’s achievements not only as the first African American elected as president of the SBC but also as pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, having grown the congregation from 50 members to more than 8,500 over 25 years and sparking the church’s restoration after Hurricane Katrina flooded the facility and scattered the membership over several states.

“The storm destroyed Luter’s home, damaged the church and scattered the members of his congregation,” Byrd said. “But the Rev. Luter did not lose faith. He held worship services in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Houston, and eventually his church was rebuilt.”

Luter humbly accepted the medal.

“When I see the list of incredible individuals who have received the George Washington Carver Medal in the past, I cannot help but ask the question, ‘Why me, Lord?’’“ Luter said before delivering the Carver Lecture.

Simpson College created the Carver Medal in 2008 to annually honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through service, leadership, conviction and a dedication to humanitarian issues, while advancing the fields of science, education, the arts or religion. The medal pays tribute to Carver’s legacy at Simpson, which he attended for one year in 1890, and to the college’s commitment to diversity throughout its history.

In delivering the Carver Lecture, Luter encouraged the college to remain faithful to God.

“Simpson College, I promise you, if you continue to be faithful to God, God will continue to be faithful to you,” he said during Thursday night’s ceremony. “Ladies and gentlemen,” Luter said, waving his arms in the air, “you will be amazed what can happen in your life if you’re faithful to God. You will be amazed what can happen in your life, in your home, in your marriage if you’re faithful to God.

“Notice I said faithful to God and God alone. Not God and someone else, but God alone. Not God and something else, but God alone. Not God and the lottery, not God and the casino, not God and the horoscopes, not God and the racetracks, not God and Dr. Phil, not God and Dr. Oz, not God and Oprah, not God and the ‘Housewives of Atlanta,’ but be faithful to God and God alone.”

Luter also encouraged the college to be faithful to God’s Word, His ways and His will.

“Ladies and gentlemen, God knows I am testifying to the goodness and grace of God. I’m not boasting, I’m not bragging, I’m testifying that if you’re faithful to God, God will, God will, God will be faithful to you. I have seen that happen in my life.”

Byrd described Luter’s address as “spectacular. It’s not often you hear a talk with that much passion and power.”

Former medal recipients include Johnnetta B. Cole, the first African American woman president of Spelman College, the first African American national chairman of United Way’s board of directors and the current director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art; Simon Estes, an internationally renowned bass-baritone who in 1978 was the first African American to sing at the Bayreuth Festival in Bayreuth, Germany; and Iowa members of the prestigious Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American combat pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Carver, born into slavery, is noted for developing 300 derivative products from peanuts and 118 from sweet potatoes, including ink, dyes, plastics, a synthetic rubber and postage stamp glue.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer.)
1/24/2013 1:55:13 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Parents refused to ‘interrupt’ Haley’s life

January 24 2013 by Meredith Flynn, Baptist Press

ANNA, Ill. – Haley Willis has exceeded expectations her whole life. Diagnosed with a neural tube defect 21 weeks before she was born, doctors told her parents, Jeff and Lynel, that Haley wouldn’t survive the pregnancy. When she was born on her due date, the Willises were told to take her home and enjoy her for as long as she survived – two weeks, at most.

Haley will turn 10 this summer. And Jeff and Lynel Willis, who serve at Harvest Church in Anna, say their oldest daughter is a miracle with a special gift for making people smile and drawing shy kids out of their shells. And defying the odds.

The Willises, who were told it would be easier to “interrupt” or terminate their pregnancy and start over, knew from the moment of Haley’s diagnosis what their responsibility was concerning their daughter.

“I was realizing really quickly that this wasn’t about Jeff and me,” Lynel said. “This was about God showing His glory through something as little as this baby. And we were just along for the ride.”

One month before her birth, the Willises named their daughter Haley Faith. Lynel said, “We wanted faith in the name, because we were having her out of faith.”

Knit together

Jeff and Lynel met at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., where Lynel was preparing for the international mission field and Jeff was studying to be a worship minister. He’s no stranger to defying his own odds; born without several of his fingers, Jeff plays drums, piano and guitar.

Before they got Haley’s diagnosis, their biggest concern was that she would have all her fingers and toes. But after their doctor gave them the bleak news of her condition and prognosis, the Willises started praying very specific things for her birth: to see her eyes, hear her cry and make snuggle sounds, to be able to feed her, and that Haley would grab on to Jeff’s pinkie.

Photo courtesy of the Willis family

People quickly notice Haley’s joyful spirit, parents Jeff and Lynel Willis say. Doctors gave her practically no chance of survival when she was diagnosed with a severe brain defect five months before her birth.

“When they laid her on my chest, and at the very moment, she grabbed on to his pinkie,” Lynel said. “And the whole room just went quiet, because they all knew what we had prayed for, and it was happening right before our eyes.”

Haley’s neural tube defect caused part of her brain to separate and grow in a sack called an “encephalocele.” She was born without one-third of her brain, and what she did have was “disorganized,” Lynel said.

From the very beginning, the Willises knew it was up to them to be Haley’s advocates. She was eating and sleeping like any baby but doctors still didn’t give her hope for long-term survival. She desperately needed a shunt to relieve pressure in her brain, but the neurosurgeon they visited wouldn’t even see her at first because he considered it a waste of time.

One physician who did fight alongside the Willises for Haley’s quality of life came to be known by the family as “Uncle Freddie.” He set up hearing and seeing tests for Haley – which she passed – and at six months, the neurosurgeon agreed to see her.

“By this time, she was smiling and looking at us, almost like a normal baby,” Lynel said. “She looked up at him, and he said, ‘This child is looking at me.’ And she smiled at him.”

Haley had her shunt surgery that day, the first in a long string of major procedures to better her life. Jeff accepted a church staff position in Tucson, Ariz., far away from the couple’s Midwestern roots. But it put them much closer to the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, where, shortly after her first birthday, Haley had a craniotomy to repair her skull.

The procedure should have taken six to eight hours, so the Willises were stunned when the surgeon walked out after an hour and a half. “He just said, ‘I can’t believe what I just saw,’” Lynel recounted. The surgeons had been able to use some of the bone in Haley’s skull to close the tennis ball-size opening. He told the Willises they had “knitted the pieces together.”

The surgeon didn’t know her parents had prayed Psalm 139 – “You knit me together in my mother’s womb” – over Haley since before her birth, praying that God would knit her skull together, bind her, heal her.

“Just the words he had used, that he had knit them together, God was showing us all over again how much He loves us,” Lynel said. Jeff added, “... And that He was in control.”

Perfect in weakness

The Willises second daughter, Brynna Grace, was born in 2008. “For a 4-year-old, she can be pretty deep sometimes,” Jeff remarked. “She’s always thinking, and she’s very detailed – she picks up on things in a whole different way. She’ll ask me about my hands.”

He responds to his daughter’s questions by telling her, “God made me special and gave me the opportunity to share about how He made me....” There’s no physical connection between Jeff’s condition and Haley’s, but he does see a spiritual connection.

“The whole thing points back to Scripture – in our weakness, He is made strong,” Jeff said, referencing 2 Corinthians 12:9. Haley is “a little girl who shouldn’t be here, let alone functioning at such a high level, and how God uses her in her weakness ... the minute she walks into a room and just wins them over. People are drawn to her for some reason.”

As she looks toward her milestone 10th birthday, Haley is a student in a regular third-grade classroom. She gets special help during the school day for reading and math, and she walks on her own with a walker or her recently-acquired crutches. She’s a big sister to Brynna Grace, 4, and Roslyn Joy, 3. And she’s a teacher. For the past several semesters, Haley and Lynel have served as guest lecturers in a class for future special education teachers at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

Lynel also has connected with other families with kids like Haley, communicating with them through Facebook, where she has documented Haley’s story, and even in-person visits. As the Willises talk with families facing a diagnosis like Haley’s, they encourage expectant couples to see the pregnancy through – and see what God’s going to do.

While Haley’s case is definitely miraculous and not the norm, Lynel counsels, “[E]ven if you don’t get the baby that you hope for, and you don’t get to keep your baby, that doesn’t mean that God isn’t trying to show you something, to do some great things in your life.”

The Willises learned the same lesson 10 years ago when, against all odds, they chose to stick with a pregnancy that almost everyone else thought was hopeless. “It really started dawning on us that what God was doing in our lives and through our lives as we went through this difficult trial,” Jeff said, “It wasn’t in the outcome of whether Haley was going to be alive when she was born, but that He gave us the peace, and let us minister to people.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist, newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association, where this article first appeared.)
1/24/2013 1:42:37 PM by Meredith Flynn, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Obama promotes gay marriage at inaugural

January 23 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – President Obama called in his second inaugural address for an agenda that includes the strengthening of civil rights for homosexuals that some interpreted as an endorsement of same-sex marriage as a constitutional right.
Speaking Monday (Jan. 21), Obama told the hundreds of thousands gathered outside the U.S. Capitol, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

The president’s remarks – reportedly the first in an inaugural address to mention homosexual rights – came shortly after he equated rights for homosexuals with the women’s voting rights and African-American civil rights movements.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” Obama said near the close of his 19-minute speech.

Advocates for the right of women to vote held a convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, N.Y., while Selma, Ala., was the starting site of important marches in 1965 to the state capital of Montgomery in support of voting rights for blacks. The 1969 riots after police raided New York City’s Stonewall Inn, which welcomed openly homosexual customers, helped launch the gay rights movement.

An advocate for same-sex marriage said Obama’s comments seemed to indicate he was prepared to support such unions as a constitutional right.

“I was very gratified to hear the president state in clear and unambiguous language that our gay and lesbian citizens must be treated equally under the law and that their loving relationships must be treated equally as well. That can only mean one thing: equality under the Constitution,” Ted Olson said, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Olson was solicitor general under President George W. Bush and is now a lawyer for homosexual couples challenging a California amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.

The White House denied Tuesday (Jan. 22) the president’s position had changed. “The president believes that it’s an issue that should be addressed by the states,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said in response to a reporter’s question at a White House briefing, The Washington Examiner reported.

Obama announced his support for gay marriage in May, becoming the first sitting president to do so. He said then the issue should be left to the states, but his inaugural speech seemed to leave open the possibility he had changed even further on the issue.

He soon will have an opportunity to make clear if his administration backs same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. In late March, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two marriage cases that could either reaffirm the historical understanding of marriage or result in the legalization of gay marriage in all 50 states.

On March 26, the justices will participate in arguments on the constitutionality of the California amendment, known as Proposition 8. The next day, they will weigh the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman in federal law.

The Justice Department must file a brief by late February if it intends to stake out a position with the high court.

A Southern Baptist college professor and cultural commentator said the president’s inaugural comments “deserve some scrutiny because their implications are morally devastating for the definition of marriage.”

Denny Burk – associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. – wrote in a blog post that Obama “actually presents in miniature a moral case for gay marriage based on the Declaration of Independence.”

“The president only means for this statement to apply to gay marriage, but his words have implications beyond the unions of gay people,” he wrote. “If equality relies on legal recognition of any union between people who love one another, why must that only apply to homosexual couples?

“I know that President Obama doesn’t support polygamy, incest, or statutory rape,” Burk said. “But that is only because he’s inconsistent. The moral basis that he cites for same-sex marriage necessarily applies to those other arrangements as well.”

The president of the National Organization for Marriage took exception to Obama’s advocacy for same-sex marriage during his inaugural speech.

“Gay and lesbian people are already treated equally under the law,” Brian Brown said in a written statement. “They have the same civil rights as anyone else; they have the right to live as they wish and love whom they choose. What they don’t have is the right to redefine marriage for all of society.”

Brown said, “A presidential inauguration should be a time for the nation to come together; instead President Obama chose to voice his support for a radical agenda advanced by some of his biggest campaign contributors to redefine marriage for everyone. Marriage brings our nation together. The concept of gay ‘marriage’ would have been totally alien to our founding fathers, and the protection and advancement of marriage between one man and one woman will immeasurably serve the common good of this country and further strengthen our Union.”

In addition to Obama’s comments:
  • Richard Blanco, an openly homosexual poet, read a poem he had written for the occasion;
  • The Lesbian and Gay Band Association, with 215 members, marched in the inaugural parade.
In addition, Luis Leon included a reference to homosexuality in his benedictory prayer, saying, “But with the blessing of your blessing we will see that we are created in your image, whether brown, black or white, male or female, first generation or immigrant American, or daughter of the American Revolution, gay or straight, rich or poor.”

Leon, Episcopalian rector at St. John’s Church in Washington, replaced Louie Giglio for the benediction after the Atlanta pastor was sharply criticized by gay-rights groups for a sermon in the 1990s in which he described homosexuality as sinful.

In his speech, Obama also addressed global warming, though it has lost much of its momentum and credibility as an issue in recent years.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” the president said. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”

He also called for immigration reform.

Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden took ceremonial oaths of office during the inauguration. They had taken the official oaths Jan. 20 as required by the Constitution.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, delivered the invocation for the inauguration. The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the ceremony. Also singing during the inauguration were Beyonce, James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson.

Earlier in the morning, Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden, along with their families, attended a prayer service at St. John’s Church, which is near the White House. Atlanta pastor Andy Stanley preached.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)
1/23/2013 3:58:07 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pro-life leaders: Battle going in right direction on Roe’s 40th

January 23 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Pro-life leaders differ over whether they expected Roe v. Wade to reach its 40th anniversary, but they agree the battle to protect unborn children and mothers in crisis is headed in the right direction.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state restrictions on abortion in its Roe opinion Jan. 22, 1973. Roe and Doe v. Bolton, a companion ruling also issued 40 years ago Tuesday (Jan. 22), had the effect of legalizing abortion throughout the country for any reason at any point in pregnancy. One of the results has been an estimated 55 million legal abortions during the last four decades.

Looking back after four decades, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said he is surprised Roe is still the law of the land, “given the fact that we’ve had Ronald Reagan as a pro-life president for eight years and George H.W. Bush as a semi-pro-life president for four years and George W. Bush for eight years. That’s 20 years since ’73. I would have thought we would have had more pro-life Supreme Court justices nominated and confirmed.”

The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission acknowledged pro-choice presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had two nominees each but said the 1990 nomination by the first President Bush of David Souter was “the game-changer.”

Pro-lifers, in this picture from the 2010 March for Life in Washington, rally for the unborn. In the 40 years since Roe v. Wade, there have been more than 55 million abortions in the United States.

Souter “was a horrible, tragic mistake, which is the main reason we still have Roe v. Wade. If instead of David Souter, President George H.W. Bush had nominated a strong pro-life Supreme Court nominee, we would have had Roe v. Wade overturned.”

Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said she is not surprised Roe still stands.

“Our opponents are the Goliath in this country,” she told Baptist Press (BP) by email. “They have the media, much of Hollywood, and unfortunately, a lot of money made by killing unborn children. However, we all know how [the story of Goliath] ended. A young boy, with faith in God, prevailed.”

Land, 66, said he still expects Roe to be overturned in his lifetime, if he lives out a “normal life span.”

“[S]entiment is moving against it,” Land told BP. “A majority of Americans think it’s immoral, and a majority [is] willing to put restrictions on it, significant restrictions on the procedure.

Tobias, 52, is not so sure.

“I truly don’t know if Roe will be reversed in my lifetime, but I tend to think it will,” she said. “The pro-life movement is filled with young people who have seen and experienced the impact of abortion on their peers and they are joining the fight to protect the next generation from the same fate. Their energy and enthusiasm will carry this battle forward until it is won.”

Pro-lifers agree the Roe and Doe decisions have been devastating for Americans. In its 1973 Doe ruling, the Supreme Court provided an exception from state regulations of abortion for “maternal health,” which it defined as “all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient.” The result was to legalize abortion “on demand,” as pro-lifers have described it.

“I can look back over those 40 years and say without a doubt: The world is not a better place because of abortion – women are not in a better place because of abortion,” Carrie Gordon Earll told CitizenLink, which is affiliated with Focus on the Family. Earll, who had an abortion in 1981, is CitizenLink’s senior policy analyst. “What it’s created is a world where you’re almost expected to abort if you’re pregnant at an inopportune time,” Earll said. “It’s created a society where it’s easier to push women toward exterminating their babies than to accommodate them with their needs as mothers.”

Tobias, of Right to Life, said in a written statement Tuesday, “Roe is a sad commentary on our society’s attitudes toward women and their unborn children.

“Roe is an assault on the very foundation of our country – the principle that life is the most fundamental of all human rights,” she said.

In a brief, written statement Tuesday, President Obama – who has strongly supported abortion rights – reaffirmed Roe’s “historic commitment to protect the health and reproductive freedom of women across this country and stand by its guiding principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters, and women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies and their health care.”

The reversal of Roe and Doe without constitutional protection for the unborn would return the issue to the states.

“[I]n most states, most abortions that currently take place will be made illegal,” Land said. “In most of the abortions that take place, the overwhelming majority, more than nine out of 10, have nothing to do with the life of the mother, rape, incest or any serious malady or genetic problem in the fetus. And most states will outlaw purely elective abortions. A significant majority of states, if they have the opportunity, would currently severely restrict abortion.”

He said, “Unfortunately, there would still be states that would have very liberal” abortion laws.

Land pointed to several factors in the pro-life movement’s advance under Roe, including:
  • The debate during the 1990s and the following decade over the heinous partial-birth abortion procedure “did an enormous amount to humanize the fetus.”
  • The progress in embryology and ultrasound technology also has helped humanize the unborn child.
  • “You know they say a picture is worth a thousands words,” Land said. “Well, sonograms have done more to reduce abortion than probably anything else, because women who see their baby are significantly less likely to abort. And, you know, we’ve got more than a generation of young people who have grown up with their siblings’ sonograms on the refrigerator. And so it’s not possible to try to convince them that it is not a human being, which is one of the reasons why pro-life is now the new majority.”
  • Pro-life couples have had babies and “raised them to be pro-life,” and pro-choicers “have not had their babies, and so they haven’t raised them to be anything.”
Pro-lifers will not give up on their effort to supplant America’s abortion regime, Tobias said.

“The pro-life movement is the movement of love, helping people they will never meet,” she told BP. “As love never ends, neither will our efforts on behalf of unborn children and their mothers.”

In its 1973 Doe ruling, the Supreme Court provided an exception from state regulations of abortion for “maternal health,” which it defined as “all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient.” The result was to legalize abortion “on demand,” as pro-lifers have described it.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

Related stories

U.S. passes 55 million abortion mark
Guest Column: 40 years after Roe, human dignity hangs in the balance
1/23/2013 3:33:32 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

U.S. passes 55 million abortion mark

January 23 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – At some point in the past year, the United States experienced its 55 millionth legal abortion – a tragic number that is far more than the combined U.S. death count of every American war since the nation’s founding.

The total spans 40 years, beginning with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on Jan. 22 legalizing abortion nationwide. The abortion count is based on data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. National Right to Life releases an annual tally using the Guttmacher data.

“That’s 55 million creative minds, 55 million people that could be working, 55 million that could be contributing to society,” Randall K. O’Bannon, National Right to Life’s director of education and research, told Baptist Press. “It’s hard to fathom all the different ways in which any person has the potential to impact the community and impact our country. The loss is staggering.”

To put the total of 55 million in perspective, the combined number of military deaths in all of America’s wars – from the Revolutionary War to the second Iraq war – is 1.2 million.

The number is large partially because Roe and its companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, placed America’s abortion laws to the left of most of the developed world. For instance, most of Europe – including Great Britain, Spain, Germany and Sweden – have more restrictions on abortion than does the United States.

Roe and Doe legalized abortion at any stage of pregnancy, for any reason. A 2004 Guttmacher study found that 86 percent of abortions are done for convenience. Rape and incest each were cited by less than half of a percent of all women who underwent abortion.

Great Britain’s abortion laws permit abortion during the first 24 weeks, and the procedure must be approved by two doctors. The U.S. has no such restrictions.

In the first full year (1974) after Roe, there were 898,600 abortions, according to Guttmacher. That number climbed to 1,553,900 in 1980 and reached an all-time high of 1,608,600 in 1990. It has fallen in nearly every year ever since and today stands at about 1.2 million a year.

O’Bannon says he doubts most people know that more than 1 million abortions are performed each year – much less that 55 million have been performed since Roe.

“I don’t have any recent polling, but I know that in the past, when they’ve asked people how many abortions they thought there were, few people demonstrated they had a knowledge there were more than a million a year,” O’Bannon said.

It may look at times like pro-lifers are losing, but polls show that in many areas, they actually are winning. For example, the same polls that show Americans support Roe also show Americans support restrictions that Roe prohibited. In other words, Americans don’t understand Roe’s reach.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted Jan. 12-15 showed that only 31 percent of adults said abortion should always be legal – the concept backed by Roe and Doe. An additional 23 percent said it should be legal most of the time, 35 percent said it should be legal only in cases of rape, incest and to save the mother’s life and 9 percent said it should never be legal. A CNN poll Aug. 22-23 last year had similar findings. It showed only 35 percent of Americans said abortion should always be legal. Nine percent said it should be legal in most circumstances, 37 percent said legal in a “few circumstances” and 15 percent said it should never be legal. Taken together, the two polls show that most Americans believe abortion should either be illegal all or most of the time, or at least have far more restrictions than permitted by Roe.

O’Bannon said a number of factors are helping transform Americans’ views on abortion to more of a pro-life stance. Among them are new medical technologies showing the baby moving and playing inside the womb, even sucking his thumb. The partial-birth abortion debate, which began in the late 1990s and placed pro-choicers on the defense, also had an impact, he said. Gallup polling shows that the percentage of people identifying themselves as “pro-choice” fell during the 1990s as the debate intensified, and the percentage that called themselves “pro-life” increased.

“As they have found out what abortion involves, Americans began to see abortion involved children with hands and feet and faces,” O’Bannon said. “They pulled back, and it made a difference. When a woman becomes pregnant, she gets a picture of an ultrasound and she takes it in her office and she shows it to everybody else. That’s pro-life education right there.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)

Related stories

Guest Column: 40 years after Roe, human dignity hangs in the balance
Pro-life leaders: Battle going in right direction on Roe’s 40th
1/23/2013 3:15:18 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Calif. migrant ministry suffers $75,000 theft

January 23 2013 by Terry Barone, Baptist Press

FRESNO, Calif. – New clothing, shoes, backpacks and school supplies designated for migrant children were stolen from a storage facility at the California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC) sometime over the weekend of Jan. 12-13.

The materials, with a retail value of approximately $75,000, are used in a ministry each summer by the California convention to outfit 2,000 elementary-age children of migrant workers.

Oscar Sanchez, CSBC migrant missionary, said many of the children of migrant families “may never have had a new outfit to start school.”

Sanchez added that clothing is only one aspect of the ministry which is conducted at 25 migrant centers throughout California, the majority of which are located in the San Joaquin Valley, but stretch from Oxnard in the south to Yuba City in the north.

In addition to the clothing ministry, migrant families receive food staples and medical and dental services coupled with a variety of evangelistic activities such as Vacation Bible Schools.

Charles McClung, CSBC ministry evangelism specialist, said the migrant outreach “gives us an opportunity to love migrant workers and their children while sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. We get to meet their physical needs, but also share Jesus. God has opened this door for more than 10 years and we want to continue to reach these families for Christ.”

Sanchez said the ministry was “just about fully stocked” for the summer outreach. “The storage facility was stacked almost to the ceiling with shoes, backpacks and clothing for both boys and girls,” he said. “About 90 percent of all the supplies designated for the summer ministry were taken during the burglary.”

At this point, Sanchez is unsure if all the materials can be replaced by summer. “We will do our best to secure the funding to replace as many of the supplies as possible and serve as many migrant children with new clothes for the new school year,” he said.

“We already are on the hunt to buy new clothes,” McClung noted. “The plan is to replace as much of clothing, shoes and backpacks as possible for the summer ministry. We’ve got to be ready by the end of June for distribution.”

The 2013 ministry is scheduled weekly from July 8 through Aug. 19.

California Southern Baptists have had ministries for migrants for more than 40 years. However, the effort has been invigorated with the addition of clothing, food and health care services in the past decade.

In 2012, more than 800 volunteers from 123 CSBC churches ministered to nearly 7,500 migrants (workers and their families) and reported 1,030 professions of faith. During the same time period, 1,075 backpacks filled with school supplies were distributed and more than 1,950 children received new sets of clothes. More than 1,500 families received food staples such as beans, rice, flour and sugar.

Since all the clothing is new, and CSBC works with several companies for key purchases in bulk, the convention is gathering online monetary donations to help replace the stolen goods at www.csbc.com under its “Donate to Migrant Ministry” graphic. Monetary gifts designated for “migrant ministry clothing” also are received by mail at CSBC, 678 E. Shaw Ave., Fresno, CA 93710.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terry Barone is editor of the California Southern Baptist newsjournal.)
1/23/2013 2:14:11 PM by Terry Barone, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Evangelists encouraged to embrace the call, seek vision

January 22 2013 by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications

Nations and individuals experience irrecoverable moments, or times when decisions lead to eternal consequences, Frank Page told those gathered in January for the annual North Carolina Vocational Evangelists Conference at Caraway Conference Center in Sophia.
“I believe our nation is at that moment now. God help us,” said Page, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. “I believe that men and women, boys and girls, come to irrecoverable moments. None of us can guarantee that we’ll have another chance to get it right.”
The evangelization department with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) sponsored the two-day conference Jan. 10-11. Page encouraged attendees to be attentive to opportunities to witness to those around them because no one is guaranteed to live another day. 

Dr. Alvin Reid at the Vocational Evangelists Conference

“As an evangelist, as a pastor, as a preacher, as ministers of the gospel, it is incumbent upon us to preach the gospel and to share the gospel because none of us know when we are sharing with someone who desperately needs that word at that moment for that reason to make a decision at that time,” he said.
The event also featured plenary sessions, comedy routines, and times of prayer and worship. In addition to Page, plenary speakers included Michael Sowers, BSC senior consultant for Great Commission Partnerships; Alvin Reid, associate dean of proclamation studies and evangelism professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Alex McFarland, director of the Center for Christian Worldview and Apologetics at North Greenville University; and Albert Long, evangelist and motivational speaker.
Vocational evangelists must recognize that their calling to share the gospel is a divine calling, Page said. And when life is difficult, only the true call of God will sustain and encourage them to remain in ministry. He reminded evangelists to be faithful to what God has called them to do because much is at stake. 
“If God called you where you are, then you better rest in that,” Page said. “You better have clarity of call. You need to understand when God called you and what God called you to do. The call must not go unheeded. We are in desperate days.”
Long encouraged those in attendance to live intentionally, with a focus on the gospel, and to lean on God’s power every day. He added “Religion without reality breeds rebellion.” McFarland, author of The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity, said followers of Christ should live their life with the belief that “you and Jesus will sit down and hit the playback button.”

Fresh Vision

Reid challenged evangelists to stay true to their calling and to be initiators of revival among God’s people. Revival in its purest form always begins with God’s people and not with the lost.
“Revival is something God does to the church that overflows in the harvest of souls. It is the people of God coming alive to God for the mission of God,” he said. “You don’t seek revival for what God will do; you seek revival for a fresh vision from God.”
Instead of seeking a fresh vision from God, Reid said believers often desire a return to the norms and practices of previous decades. He encouraged the audience to seek a fresh vision from God that will impact lostness in this generation.
“Thank God for the past, remember the past and the work of God, but move forward,” he said. “I believe Christianity is advancing a movement of God and not maintaining the institution of God.

“If you go back and read the sermons of the great awakenings they did not preach three steps to revival. They preached the gospel,” Reid said. “Don’t preach a cross-less gospel. Don’t preach a gospel without substitutionary atonement. In the middle of our faith is a bloody cross and a beautiful glorious resurrection.”
Reid said another characteristic common among the great revivals of the past is that young people were always the catalyst. Despite growing numbers of young people leaving the church in recent decades, Reid is encouraged by the hunger of today’s younger generation for spiritual truth.
“If they are learning trigonometry in high school they can learn theology in church. They want it,” he said.
Reid told the audience that the key to reaching the younger generation is to teach them the depths of God’s Word. Be honest and truthful with them, love them unconditionally and give them grace to live out their faith. 
“When you are in churches be very careful not to just criticize teenagers but also encourage them,” he said. “Young people need encouragement, they need a vision and they need permission to live for God.”
Elected officers at this year’s event include: Royce Williams, president; Keith Kimball, vice president; Cindy Johnson, secretary/treasurer; and Randall Floyd, website/management.
Visit ncevangelists.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – The N.C. Vocational Evangelist’s Fellowship and Biblical Recorder staff contributed to this story.)
1/22/2013 12:14:39 PM by Buddy Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Seattle’s short, Bible-quoting quarterback headed to Pro Bowl

January 22 2013 by Zachary Abate, World News Service

All season long Seattle Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson thanked God in his post-game interviews and used his Twitter account to offer Bible verses and words of encouragement.  The day after a last-second playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Wilson tweeted a daily Bible verse that looks ahead to a bright hope far more important than a Super Bowl ring: “You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:8 NKJV).”
On Jan. 13, Wilson had manufactured the greatest comeback in recent NFL history – rallying his team from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter of the NFC playoff game and giving his team a slim lead with 31 seconds to play – only to see Atlanta kick a field goal to win at the very end. Wilson told reporters the outcome was “obviously very disappointing,” then said he was already looking forward to next season: “The greatest thing about it is, we get to look forward to the next opportunity.”
On Jan. 21 it was announced that Wilson had been added to the NFC roster for the Jan. 27 Pro Bowl in Honolulu after Atlanta’s Matt Ryan withdrew due to an injury.
Wilson’s overwhelmingly positive post-game talk focused on his team’s resilience, the lessons he learned in his rookie year, and his excitement about growing as a player. Drafted in the third round – 75th overall – the University of Wisconsin star entered the season without much fanfare or attention. The former quarterback for N.C. State University in Raleigh won the starting quarterback job after convincing Seattle coach Pete Carroll he could do it, even though at 5 feet, 11 inches, Wilson is notably short for an NFL quarterback – the primary reason many teams passed on drafting him last April. “It’s pretty unbelievable how the Lord works,” Wilson told ESPN earlier this year.
In his initial months as Seattle’s signal caller, reporters constantly asked Wilson questions about his height. One journalist jokingly asked Carroll if his quarterback would be fitted for lifts. But Wilson’s play eventually led the Seahawks (11-5) to an NFC West Division title and a playoff victory over the Washington Redskins before falling short against the Falcons, all of which gives Seattle fans something to look forward to next year.
1/22/2013 12:08:42 PM by Zachary Abate, World News Service | with 0 comments

Displaying results 21-30 (of 90)
 |<  <  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9  >  >|