January 2014

Okla. relief effort provides shelter, hope

January 27 2014 by Bob Nigh, Baptist Messenger/Baptist Press

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Eight months after a tornado touched down west of Newcastle, Okla., and roared northeastward for 17 miles during a 39-minute reign of terror that ripped through Moore, Okla., Sam Porter is close to seeing his dream come to fruition.
Thanks to the heartfelt donations of thousands of people – many who never have, and never will, put a foot down into the red soil of the Sooner State – Porter is at the launching point of providing 100 in-ground, concrete storm shelters for survivors of the May 19-20, 2013 storms.
Porter, disaster relief director for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, hopes planting those concrete shelters will also plant seeds of hope for the future for so many who have been through so much.
The peak winds of 210 miles-per-hour that accompanied the twister on May 20 almost a year ago claimed 25 lives. Despite following the similar track of the even-deadlier May 3, 1999 Bridge Creek-Moore tornado, very few homes and neither of the two Moore schools destroyed by the 1.3-mile-wide May 20 tornado had storm shelters.

Photo by Bob Nigh
Sonya Saffa, long-term recovery coordinator, prepares to examine the inside of one of the 100 shelters the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma will install for storm survivors this year. Also pictured is Sam Porter, disaster relief director for the convention.

Through a partnership with the North American Mission Board (NAMB), the Oklahoma convention has a goal of installing 100 storm shelters during this year, Porter said. About half of them will be located at sites where the convention has provided, or will be providing, mobile homes for families who lost their residences in the storm.
“We will install a storm shelter for all of the families who have received a mobile home,” Porter explained. “That will be a great psychological lift for them, and in a way, provide a sense of security, especially for those who have ridden out a storm in their home. 
“So, for the 50 mobile homes we are going to put in, that’s where half of these 100 storm shelters will go, we already know that.”
The Oklahoma convention has already put in place 23 mobile homes, and has purchased another 20 to be refurbished.
“We have a total of at least 100 shelter sites identified through pastors, other agencies we work with and community leaders,” Porter said.
Eight shelters will go into Steelman Estates, west of Shawnee, as community shelters, Porter indicated. They will be scattered out and be no more than one block away from any residence.
“Before the storm, there were 90 mobile homes in that area, and the majority of them were blown away by the tornado,” he said.
Directing the project as long-term recovery coordinator is Sonya Saffa, an Oklahoma native who moved back to the state from Florida last year just after the storms hit. She has been involved in a significant way ever since. Saffa has extensive disaster relief experience with NAMB and helps national disaster relief staff set up disaster relief sites when the need arises. She also has owned her own ministry-related businesses and began and coordinated a ministry for orphans in Russia for seven years.
“She will be the field person tracking the project, making the contacts and coordinating the teams doing the installations,” Porter said.
Saffa also has been helping coordinate the placement of the mobile homes for tornado survivors working with three other state disaster relief leaders.
Porter said, “We have also purchased a backhoe to support the project, and then we’ll roll it over into our disaster relief fleet.”
The Oklahoma convention currently has two skid-steer loaders, which aren’t large enough to handle the heavy job of installing the storm shelters. The shelters’ outside dimensions are just over 6 feet-by-8 feet. The walls are 6 inches thick, and each shelter has the capacity to accommodate between 12-14 people.
“We’ll use the backhoe for storm shelter installation and also for cleaning up debris,” Porter said. “With the tornado effort here, we were able to take down a lot of damaged homes once they were declared a total loss, but we had to go rent either track hoes or backhoes to knock the houses down.
“It’s so dangerous to do that with a Skid Steer, because it’s so much shorter, and the roofs and walls of the structures could fall back over on it and the operator. We will now be able to use the new, much larger backhoe in fire and tornado recovery; it will be a valuable asset for us.”
The existence of the new backhoe opens up a new avenue of service for volunteers, Porter said.
“We are seeking several laymen with back hoe operating skills to join us on a team to install these across the May 2013 storm track,” he said.
“Those individuals interested in assisting do not have to be members of the disaster relief team. We just want several individuals who want their lives and skills to make an eternal difference in someone’s life.”
Interested persons may contact Porter at (405) 942-3800 ext. 4337.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Nigh is managing editor of the Baptist Messenger.)
1/27/2014 11:25:44 AM by Bob Nigh, Baptist Messenger/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bright future possible with God, Page says

January 24 2014 by Timothy Sweetman, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary/Baptist Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Calling his message a “frightening responsibility” because of his desire to speak accurately, while simultaneously being “honoring of our Lord,” Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, delivered a “State of the SBC” address at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Students, faculty, staff and local church pastors from Missouri, Kansas and the Midwest region gathered in the seminary’s chapel to listen to the message, which covered a wide range of issues within the SBC. Page shared his own observations, predictions and exhortations to Southern Baptists.
Jason K. Allen, Midwestern Seminary’s president, said “Midwestern Seminary is absolutely committed to serving the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, so it is fitting, and even poetic, that Dr. Page delivered such a prominent and historic address on the campus of Midwestern Seminary.

“We are a group of approximately 46,000 churches looking for divine intervention,” SBC Executive Committee president Frank Page told an audience at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in answer to his own question, “Who are Southern Baptists?”

“Dr. Page spoke with insight and foresight, demonstrating once again the unique leadership role he fills for Southern Baptists.”
Page’s address began with an admission of having a fascination with scientific studies of various kinds, including earthquakes. He noted that below the earth’s surface are large tectonic plates. Where these plates meet are called “fault lines.” When tectonic plates move against one another, their convergence results in intense geological activity, such as earthquakes and volcanoes.
“Fault lines happen even in organizations,” Page said in his Jan. 15 address. “And like on the earth, where the fault lines and tectonic plates come together, pressure builds. If that pressure is not alleviated, then deep damage occurs.”
There are fault lines, Page said, in the Southern Baptist Convention where “pressure has built.”
“Sometimes pressure is eased in a godly, biblical and legitimate way, and sometimes things happen that cause lasting damage,” he said.
Looking back, Page identified the Conservative Resurgence as “a time in our history when indeed there was a several-decades long struggle over the issue of how do Baptists believe and hold to the veracity of the Word of God.”
“The arguments that came in those days found their roots decades ago, but the big fault lines and pressure was experienced perhaps most profoundly in the eighties and in the nineties,” he said.
“The institution in which you now study or teach or are now sitting was one of the epicenters in that epic struggle.” Page said, referencing the controversy that took place at Midwestern Seminary in 1961. Ralph Elliott, chair of the seminary’s Old Testament department, argued in his book The Message of Genesis that it was not literal history. Instead, he contended, it was a book of symbolic stories.
“There were many battles fought, much pressure released, and yes, some damage done,” Page added.
Page also pointed to pressure related to the more recent debate about Calvinism versus non-Calvinism.
“I do believe that this last year at the convention we saw God show up in a way that relieved some of that pressure, as leaders from both sides of the fence gathered to say, ‘We want to work together for the Gospel,” he said. “Too much is at stake not to do so. I applaud those leaders from both sides of the soteriological fence.
“Do I think that fault line is fixed forever? Hardly. But I said to them in all honesty, ‘I want us to work together so that we can at least win some people to Christ for now. Can we do that?’”
Page briefly mentioned a current “ecclesiological” fault line affecting the convention. Page said he believes there are developing fault lines with mounting pressures as Baptists struggle with how to govern a church, particularly as it relates to congregational governance, elder leadership and the role of deacons.
The most predominant fault line in the convention, Page added, was neither theological nor ecclesiological. Instead, the greatest amount of pressure building is due to “methodological” tensions.
Some may describe it as “individual versus corporate,” “societal versus cooperative,” “contemporary versus traditional,” or “the young versus the old,” he said.
“This methodological divide is impacting the direction of our convention,” Page said. “I wake up every day asking myself the question: ‘Who are we? Who is the Southern Baptist Convention?’ There is no discernible answer.”
Page admitted he often thinks a solution to the question is at hand, but it’s quickly proven inadequate.
The methodological quandary has affected some of the denomination’s entities. He noted one organization asked what life may look like after the Cooperative Program.
“I’d love to know what was said in there,” Page remarked.
He also attributed the record-low baptismal rates to the methodological divide within the convention.
“We have argued over issues that have taken away our evangelistic fervor to the point that now our baptismal rates have reached a low not seen since 1948. God help us,” Page said.
“We can lament and we can say we’re a declining denomination,” Page continued, “and by many statistical analyses, we are. Some would say we’re a denomination in the midst of clarification, finally beginning to see things as they really are. We struggle also with the fact that one out of every five Southern Baptist churches do not send in any kind of report, so we have to extrapolate and to guess what is really happening out there when we are not always given accurate statistical material with which to work.”
Regardless of what kind of statistical material is available, Page described in one sentence the state of the convention. 
“The status of our convention is best described thus ... we are a group of approximately 46,000 churches looking for divine intervention.”
Referencing Daniel 2:28, where the prophet Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that Daniel was incapable of interpreting the king’s dream of himself. Daniel declared, “But there is a God!” Page said the reality of divine intervention stands before the convention, not as a mere possibility, nor as a last ditch effort, but as our true hope.
“We are a convention made up of messengers who meet every year, declining in number ... and you say, ‘What is our future?’ I do not know. I’m asked that every week by someone, and I say, ‘I cannot answer.’ If things do not change, I can tell you in 20 years we will be happy to have 27,000, not 47,000 churches. If things do not change, our baptismal rates will continue to suffer. But there is a God!”
Despite some discouraging trends, Page said he still has hope for the future of the convention, especially when he sees 16,000 students enrolled in the six Southern Baptist seminaries, the North American Mission Board’s goal of 15,000 new churches by 2020, and the increased assistance for churches needing revitalization.
“When we realize that our answers are not in logistical moving around of chairs on the deck of the Titanic but seeking absolute new Holy Spirit-given power, then we will say the future of this convention is bright indeed.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Sweetman is director of communications at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)
1/24/2014 1:33:24 PM by Timothy Sweetman, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

For some Christians, sharing medical bills is a godly alternative

January 24 2014 by Bob Smietana, Religion News Service

Every time he goes to the doctor’s office, Daniel Eddinger takes a leap of faith.
Eddinger, a 28-year-old father of two from Lexington, N.C., doesn’t have health insurance.
But he’s not worried about the cost of getting sick.
Instead of insurance, he says, he relies on God – and the help of other believers – to pay his medical bills.
Eddinger is one of a small but growing number of American Christians who have joined so-called health sharing ministries – faith-based alternatives to insurance.
Health share ministry leaders expect their programs to grow despite the rollout of the federal Affordable Care Act, which in some cases is less expensive.
Every month Eddinger deposits about $400 – known as a share – into an account set up through Medi-Share, a Florida-based nonprofit that has about 70,000 members nationwide.

Photo courtesy of Samaritan Ministries International
The Rev. Tom Zobrist, pastor of Liberty Bible Church in Eureka, Ill., joined Samaritan Ministries three years ago.

If Eddinger’s family has medical bills – like those for the birth of his youngest son last year – other members deposit their monthly share into Eddinger’s account.
Otherwise Eddinger’s $400 goes to another family that has medical bills.
“I like that the money goes to other families, and not the pockets of the insurance company,” he said. “You can be confident that your money has been spent wisely.”
The last few years have been good for health-sharing ministries. Medi-Share, for example, had 35,000 members in 2009. Today that number has doubled. Samaritan Ministries International, based in Peoria, Ill., went from 13,470 households in January 2009 to 30,068 households, or about 100,000 individuals, in January 2014.
Tony Meggs, CEO and president of Medi-Share, expects the numbers to continue to grow because of the concept’s faith appeal.
Health-sharing ministry members sign a statement of beliefs, along with a code of conduct that bans smoking, extramarital sex and excessive drinking. They also pray for other families in the group, along with sending money. Health-sharing plans don’t cover abortion or contraception.
It’s an idea, he says, that’s based on the Bible, especially the New Testament book of Acts.
“The early church came together and they took care of their own,” Meggs said.
Health-sharing ministries offer a community – not just a health plan. James Lansberry, executive vice president of Samaritan Ministries International, keeps mementos from group members on his desk to make that point.
Last year his infant son spent 11 days in intensive care, due to complications at birth. Along with paying about $200,000 in medical bills, group members sent greetings and prayer cards to Lansberry and his family.
For some members, joining a health-sharing ministry was cheaper then buying insurance. But the new health insurance exchanges, and tax credits, have made some insurance plans more affordable for families.
According to an online health insurance cost calculator from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a silver level health care plan for a family of four earning the median family income would cost $8,290 a year, which works out to about $690 a month.
The Kaiser calculator estimates that same family could get up to $4,728 a year in tax credits for their health premiums. That would cut the cost of the plan to about $3,562 a year, or $296 a month, or about $104 a month less than the Eddingers pay.
Still, health-sharing ministry leaders believe their programs will continue to grow. Health-sharing ministries are exempt from the ACA – so they aren’t involved in legal battles over the contraceptive mandate. That allows members to follow their faith without being in conflict with the government, said Lansberry.
“We are thankful for this island of freedom,” he said.
Health-sharing plans aren’t for everyone.
Members have to sign a fairly conservative statement of faith and code of conduct. They have to be active church members.
And they have to be comfortable with risk.
There’s no guarantee that their medical bills will get paid. The system is based on trust, rather than a contract.
When his son was hurt playing football, the Rev. Tom Zobrist said, Samaritan members paid more than $10,000 in medical bills.
“When you trust God’s people, they keep their word,” he said.
Zobrist also likes that Samaritan members don’t always pay full price for health care.
He doesn’t show an insurance card when he goes to the doctor or hospital. Instead, he pays cash, which often leads to significant discounts.
Medi-Share also negotiates discounts for its members, said Meggs.
Health-sharing plans do put some limits on pre-existing conditions.  Medi-Share also makes some members work with a health coach, to deal with issues such as obesity.
At least one health-sharing ministry has run into legal problems in the past.
Leaders of the Christian Brotherhood Newsletter were accused of misusing millions of dollars for personal gain in the late 1990s and were eventually sued by the state of Ohio.
That group, now known as Christian Healthcare Ministries, is now accredited by the Better Business Bureau’s charity program and files a 990 tax return annually with the IRS.
Samaritan Ministries also files a 990 and makes its annual audit available to the public. Medi-Share, which is organized as a church, does not file a 990 but makes its audit available to the public.
For the most part, the health sharing groups operate outside of government regulation. Nevertheless, in 2007, Medi-Share was banned from Nevada after regulators there claimed it was an unlicensed insurance plan. Kentucky also banned health-sharing groups but lifted the ban in 2013 after lawmakers passed a bill making such plans exempt from state insurance law.
Leaders of health ministries take great pains to distinguish themselves from insurance plans. They’ve also lobbied Congress and state legislatures to keep them exempt from regulation.
“Insurance is about actuarial tables. We are about sharing burdens,” said Lansberry of Samaritan Ministries. “Insurance companies want to protect you from what might happen. We are going to share what already happened.”
1/24/2014 1:04:18 PM by Bob Smietana, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

States budget more for Great Commission

January 24 2014 by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Trending among Baptist state convention meetings this year was the decision to send more money to the mission field – a challenge set forth by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force adopted by the SBC at its 2010 annual meeting in Orlando.
This year more than half of the cooperating state Baptist conventions increased the portion of undesignated Cooperative Program receipts from local churches sent to the Southern Baptist Convention. Those funds support the International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, the convention’s six seminaries, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and SBC operations by the Executive Committee.
The Dakota and Nevada conventions led the way by increasing the CP portion of their respective budgets by 4 percent. Both conventions made deep cuts to their budgets in recent years to deal with declining income. In both the Dakotas and Nevada, reorganizations took into consideration some of the priorities stemming from the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force (GCRTF) recommendations.

SBC president

SBC President Fred Luter expressed support for the Cooperative Program in every state convention meeting he attended. State conventions need to be steadfast in their efforts to share with churches the importance of giving to the Cooperative Program, he told Baptist Press.
“Each state must talk about the benefits of giving,” Luter said, citing church planting, strengthening existing churches and “supporting our missionaries to share the Gospel not only in America but all over the world.”
While ministry beyond the state was the emphasis of the GCRTF recommendations, Luter said local churches also should be mindful of the impact they can have on ministry within their states when they prioritize the CP within their budgets.
“In all the state conventions I had the honor of preaching at, there was an appeal given to the messengers about supporting CP giving,” Luter said. “I thought each video or media presentation was well-received by the messengers.”
Luter voiced confidence that Southern Baptists will continue to value the Cooperative Program as they see the vital role it plays in every level of ministry each year.
“I truly believe effective communication about how important CP giving is to our local, state and national convention ministry will eliminate any concern that messengers may have” about the viability of the Cooperative Program. Luter recommended churches consider the resources available from state conventions and the SBC to keep their members aware of the role of the Cooperative Program, and he suggested that they enlist people who have benefited from CP support to share their testimonies.
Luter also applauded the 1 Percent CP Challenge issued by SBC Executive Committee President Frank Page.
“The benefits of this challenge truly rewarding” when each church and each state convention does its part, the two-term SBC president said.

50/50 split targeted

Following approval of the GCRTF recommendations in 2010, state conventions began a movement toward greater efficiency in response to support for Great Commission-related funding priorities among messengers to their respective annual meetings, even amid a downturn in receipts from local churches. By fall 2010, messengers in Florida, Kentucky, Nevada and Tennessee called for moving their state convention budgets toward a 50/50 distribution of CP funds so that ministry resources could be increased worldwide.
Kentucky made quick work of getting further down the road toward a 50/50 allocation, moving from 61.9 percent to state causes and 38.1 percent to SBC causes in 2011 to 55 percent/45 percent in 2013. This year 53.5 percent of undesignated CP gifts from churches will remain in state while 46.5 advances to SBC causes.
The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, which began with a 50/50 distribution when it was founded in 1998, currently forwards 55 percent to the SBC while retaining 45 percent for in-state missions and ministry.
Rounding out the top five in order of greatest portion sent beyond the state’s borders are the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia (54 percent to state causes/46 percent to SBC causes), Alabama (56.7 percent to state causes/43.3 percent to SBC causes) and Maryland-Delaware (56.96 percent to state causes/43.05 percent to SBC causes).

Shared ministry expenses

Fewer states are utilizing the practice of “shared ministry” allocations for items they deem dually beneficial to the state and national convention before dividing the net between in-state and SBC use. In 2014, 16 state conventions will utilize this practice: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland-Delaware, Michigan, Missouri, New England, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia and Wyoming.
Items identified as shared ministry expenses vary from state to state but often include Cooperative Program promotion; mission efforts previously funded or jointly funded by NAMB; retirement benefits provided for pastors and church staff members through GuideStone Financial Resources; and the expense of the state Baptist paper. A few conventions also include various personnel, property and technology expenses.
Some state conventions, in backing away from shared items, either reduced that percentage or ended the practice completely. This year, Georgia Baptists adopted a “straight allocation budget.” While previously categorizing nearly 20 percent of the $41.8 million budget as “shared ministry” items, the new model allocates 40 percent of CP gifts from Georgia churches to SBC missions and ministries, retains 48.97 percent for Georgia Baptist Convention ministries, and dedicates 11.03 percent for “Mission Extension Ministries” to fund various GBC institutions, including the three Baptist-affiliated colleges.
New Mexico Baptists reduced the portion in the shared ministry category, while at the same time increasing their budget and the portion going to SBC causes. Kansas-Nebraska eliminated the shared ministry category and set their CP distribution at 77/23.
Kentucky reduced the portion dedicated to shared items from 10 to 7 percent and increased the SBC portion of CP funds from 45 to 46.5 percent. Budget changes in New England, Northwest, Ohio and Wyoming prompted slight increases in the items classified as shared ministry while Alabama Baptists increased the category from 1.64 to 10 percent.

Budget goals

Seventeen of the state Baptist conventions that participate in the SBC’s Cooperative Program approved increases for their 2014 budgets, continuing a rebound first noted last year across much of the SBC.
State conventions reporting budget increases are California, Colorado, Dakota, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New England, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania/South Jersey, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, Baptist General Association of Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Flat budgets were approved in Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas/Nebraska, Kentucky, Maryland/Delaware, Michigan, South Carolina and Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.
Conventions reducing their budgets were Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota/Wisconsin, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Northwest, Tennessee and the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Utah-Idaho.
In 2013, Alaska Baptists led the SBC in making the most extensive cut to a budget with a 19 percent reduction, while at the same time beginning to classify 12.36 of the budget as shared ministry. While continuing to identify shared ministry items, Alaska messengers in 2014 were able to increase the portion allocated to SBC causes from 31.55 to 31.94 percent and increased their budget 13 percent over the previous year.
Nevada Baptists cut their budget by 8 percent in 2013 while increasing the SBC portion of CP receipts by one-half of 1 percent. In 2014 they will boost the CP portion from 31 to 35 percent and increase their budget, reflecting a surge in giving and reprioritization of church planting.
At least two state conventions – the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Association of Virginia – allow or encourage churches to customize what they label Cooperative Program giving, continuing practices established more than a decade ago.
Baptist General Association of Virginia has three pre-set giving tracks, and one that a church can customize to fund SBC causes or those of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The portion allocated for shared ministries with SBC equals 5 percent of total BGAV contributions to NAMB.
Baptist General Convention of Texas splits undesignated receipts from affiliated churches by retaining 79 percent for in-state use and sending 21 percent to out-of-state causes as specified by the church. Giving in 2014 from affiliated churches is forecast by BGCT to be $48.95 million and is set to provide $11.3 million to the Southern Baptist Convention, $1 million to Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and $1.8 million for the worldwide portion of what BGCT labels the Texas Baptist Cooperative Program.
BGCT also allows churches to customize the split between in-state and out-of-state allocations so that it matches a church’s preference, as opposed to the preferred budget approved by messengers to the state convention meeting.
According to the SBC Executive Committee, contributions from each state convention amounted to $10,980,427 from BGCT and $1,395,463 from BGAV for the previous fiscal year ending in September.
States reporting increases in the portion of CP allocated to SBC causes include Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Dakotas, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota/Wisconsin, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New England, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Penn/Jersey, Tennessee, Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.
In anticipating CP income for SBC causes, the Executive Committee staff attempts to make projections based on the distribution approved by messengers in each state, but recognizes that the actual dollar amount fluctuates. How well cooperating churches in each state convention are able to fund their respective budgets and whether more churches adopt the 1 Percent CP Challenge to increase the portion they send to the state by a percentage point will become factors in actual CP receipts received for SBC missions and ministries.
The trend in giving priorities is hopeful, said Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee president.
“Over a period of years, I have witnessed changing ministry paradigms in many of our cooperating state conventions,” Page said. “Our state partners are responding to the desires of their churches to be more focused than ever on serving the needs of their churches while making sure that more resources go to reach the world for Christ. They have shown a keen willingness to do more with less. We value our state partners and thank God for the work they are doing to touch not only their states, but the world, with the Gospel.”

Budget surplus goals

Ten state conventions adopted the practice of dividing any budget surplus equally between the state convention and the SBC: Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas/Nebraska, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, New York and Utah/Idaho, according to reports provided to Baptist Press. California went even further to specify that all of any surplus will be sent to SBC causes.
Aside from budget proposals, several state conventions addressed changes in messenger requirements. A portion of those changes included consideration of churches’ track records in CP giving. Messengers in six states – Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, New York, South Carolina and West Virginia – addressed the definition of a cooperating church.
Analysis of financial data is based on information supplied by Baptist Press and state convention reports with projections for 2014 calculated or in some cases estimated by SBC Executive Committee staff.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tammi Reed Ledbetter is managing editor of the print edition of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)
1/24/2014 12:51:23 PM by Tammi Reed Ledbetter, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pro-life movement ‘alive and well,’ leaders say

January 24 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The survival and growth of the pro-life movement are remarkable, some of its leaders said as the United States reached the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s legalization of abortion nationwide.
Right-to-life advocates applauded their movement’s continuing response to Roe v. Wade, the Jan. 22, 1973 decision that struck down all state bans on abortion.
“Forty-one years ago, if you had asked someone, ‘What will the pro-life movement look like in the year 2014?,’ they probably would have replied back, ‘Are you kidding? There won’t be a pro-life movement in 2014,’” said Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), in a statement for Baptist Press.
“And yet, today I watched thousands of people march down the streets of our nation’s capital to protest laws that dehumanize and destroy living human persons,” said Moore, who participated in Wednesday’s March for Life, which is the centerpiece of pro-life activity each Jan. 22 in Washington.
Tens of thousands of pro-lifers participated in the annual event despite snow on the ground, a temperature of 15 degrees and a wind chill of minus 1 when they began the procession to Capitol Hill.

Russell D. Moore, ERLC president, posted on Instagram this picture of the crowd gathered Wednesday (Jan. 22) at the March for Life rally in Washington.

Rick Santorum, formerly a Republican presidential candidate and U.S. senator, told participants at another event Jan. 22, “No one would have predicted that 40 years after Roe versus Wade that teenagers and 20 year olds would be more pro-life than the generation that gave us Roe versus Wade.
“The bottom line is: Truth is on our side; science is on our side; young people are on our side,” he said at ProLifeCon, a conference for pro-lifers who blog and use social media. “This movement’s winning.”
Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., the leading pro-lifer in Congress, said at the rally on the national mall that preceded the March for Life, “he pro-life movement is alive and well and making serious, significant and sustained progress.
“Rather than dull our consciences to the unmitigated violence of abortion, the passage of time has only enabled us to see and, frankly, better understand the innate cruelty of abortion and its horrific legacy – victims – while making us more determined than ever to protect the weakest and the most vulnerable,” he said, according to a draft of his speech.
The 41st anniversary of Roe followed new reports released by both pro-life and pro-choice organizations that documented the grim toll of legalized abortion, as well as inroads by its opponents:
  • An estimated 56 million unborn babies, or more, have died by abortion since Roe.
  • The annual total of abortions has fallen from 1.6 million in 1990 to between 1.1 and 1.2 million in recent years.
  • States have enacted 205 laws restricting abortion during the last three years, including 70 in 2013, according to a Jan. 2 report by the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of the abortion rights movement.
State restrictions “have helped immensely” in reducing the number of abortions, said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), in a Jan. 21 news conference.
“The right-to-life movement is succeeding because even after 41 years and more than 56 million abortions, the conscience of our nation knows that killing unborn children is wrong,” she told reporters.
Pro-life advocates need to maintain and change, pro-life leaders said.
“As churches, we must continue to call for justice for the unborn while pointing burdened consciences to the forgiving mercy of God through the blood of Christ,” Moore said.
Santorum told the ProLifeCon audience at Family Research Council’s headquarters in Washington, “we are a movement that I think has learned lessons, and we continue to learn lessons about how to ... put our foot forward.
“We just need to keep loving, keep working and do so with a smile on our face,” he said.
Also at ProLifeCon, Joe Carter, the ERLC’s director of communications, urged pro-lifers – especially those operating online – to stop considering themselves “activists” and accept the role of persuading others “to recognize the intrinsic dignity of all humans.”
“In order to be more persuasive we need to change the perception of our movement,” Carter said. “Instead of being viewed as pro-life activists, we need to be viewed as normal people who simply want to champion the cause of human dignity.”
Neither the March for Life nor Twitter – despite their ability to rally pro-lifers – are means of persuasion that will produce a pro-life America, he said. Yet, social media can be helpful to the pro-life cause, Carter told the ProLifeCon audience. A photo of a baby on Facebook is the “most powerful and persuasive pro-life tool,” and posting, “liking” or sharing such a photo can produce change, he said.
“If we want to be more persuasive for the pro-life cause, we need to find more ways like this to change the context,” Carter said. “We don’t need to do this by showing pictures of bloody fetuses to trigger a gag reflex. We need to do this by evoking our neighbor’s natural love and protective instinct for children.”
Pro-life advocates should be more creative and innovative in using tools such as Facebook and Twitter, he said.
“We need fresh thinking about what methods work, and a ruthless weeding out of methods that don’t,” Carter said. “Too often we’ve simply been late, sloppy adapters of tools that were already created.
“For far too long we’ve judged ourselves on the nobility of our cause rather than on the effectiveness of our efforts. But it’s because our cause is so noble – and so urgent – that we have to do better.”
In a report it released Jan. 21, NRLC included the following in chronicling the successes of states in enacting pro-life laws:
  • 29 states have enacted effective parental involvement laws.
  • 27 states have passed measures requiring informed consent for women considering abortion.
  • 24 states have approved bans on coverage of abortion in insurance plans.
  • 23 states have enacted provisions requiring clinics at least to offer an abortion-minded woman the opportunity to see an ultrasound of her baby.
Americans United for Life (AUL) released Jan. 14 its annual state rankings in protecting unborn babies and their mothers.
AUL’s 10 most protective states were: (1) Louisiana; (2) Oklahoma; (3) Arkansas; (4) Arizona; (5) Pennsylvania; (6) Texas; (7) Kansas; (8) Indiana; (9) Nebraska; (10) Missouri.
The organization ranked Washington as the least protective state for the fifth consecutive year. The next nine least protective states were: (2) California; (3) Vermont; (4) New York; (5) Connecticut; (6) New Jersey; (7) Oregon; (8) Hawaii; (9) Maryland; (10) Nevada.
On the federal level, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia announced at the March for Life that the House of Representatives would vote the following week, Jan. 27-31, on the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act, H.R. 7. The House is expected to approve the government-wide ban on federal funds for abortion, but President Obama and the Senate’s Democratic leadership oppose it.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief.)
1/24/2014 12:23:17 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Abedini now among Iran’s political prisoners

January 24 2014 by Baptist Press staff

TEHRAN, Iran – Saeed Abedini, held in a brutal Iranian prison because of his faith, has been transferred from the murderer ward to the political prisoner ward, something a key supporter called “an improvement, but not a victory.”
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, said Jan. 22 the Iranian-American pastor remains in the deadliest prison in Iran, Rajai Shahr Prison, facing deteriorating medical conditions.
Still, Sekulow called the move the first positive step since Abedini’s transfer from Evin Prison last November.

Saeed Abedini with his wife and children.

“For the first time in six weeks, Pastor Saeed’s Iranian family was able to visit with Pastor Saeed today in his new prison ward,” Sekulow wrote in an update to supporters.
“No reason was given for the move and his family reports that this new ward, still within the dangerous walls of Rajai Shahr, represents a slight improvement in his treatment. Pastor Saeed is now receiving better meals,” Sekulow wrote.
Abedini still is throwing up regularly and coping with severe abdominal pain, according to his family, but he was allowed finally to be examined by a prison doctor. The physician, who reportedly was “very concerned about his internal injuries,” recommended surgery.
In conjunction with his transfer to the political ward, the pastor was given pain medication for the injuries he endured from beatings at Evin Prison, but he still has not received the medicine prescribed earlier for his condition. Sekulow said Abedini’s family in Iran has formally petitioned the Iranian government to allow him to receive the necessary surgery.
Naghmeh Abedini, the pastor’s wife, who lives in Idaho with the couple’s two young children, said she received a small bit of comfort in knowing her husband had been transferred out of the murderer ward, “but my heart aches to know the pain he continually suffers and that his injuries necessitate surgery.”
“As a family, it is difficult to be so far away and unable to comfort him in his pain,” Abedini said through the ACLJ. “Though we are encouraged by the transfer to the new ward, such a small step is far from an unconditional release where Saeed is reunited with our family. While this development is welcomed, we desperately await his return home.”
Sekulow warned that while the political prisoner ward should be safer for Abedini than the murderer ward, authorities have placed two violent criminals in the political ward who “consistently threaten any semblance of peace.”
Also, Sekulow learned that the prison closed recreational facilities and the library that had been available to political prisoners.
The ACLJ, which represents Naghmeh Abedini and has persisted in efforts to free her husband for well over a year, continues to work with world leaders and urge the U.S. government to make releasing Abedini a priority.
More than 67,000 people have signed a petition asking Congress to impose tighter sanctions on Iran until Abedini is released. The petition can be found at beheardproject.com/saeed.
Naghmeh Abedini is scheduled as a keynote speaker for the sixth annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy Feb. 25, ahead of the annual session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. She continues to speak in various venues on behalf of the persecuted church and her husband in particular.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach.)
1/24/2014 12:06:13 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Bankrupt Detroit draws those intent on ‘the Lord’s business’

January 23 2014 by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press

DETROIT – People say Detroit is broken and bankrupt. Yet Southern Baptist church planter Daryl Gaddy has another word for his beleaguered city: home.
Detroit became the largest city in American history to file for bankruptcy last summer – a decline that began in the 1950s and accelerated in the 1980s. The city’s auto industry had cranked out 90 percent of American soldiers’ helmets during World War II and half of the Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers. But today more than half of the city’s 140 square miles sit vacant. A million people have left the city since 1950.
No matter what the pundits say, Gaddy sees hope for Detroit because of the Spirit of God and the Word of God.”
“The Bible says, ‘If my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways.’ I believe that if we get back to the Word of God and loving the people of God, there will be a great revival in the city,” Gaddy said, “and we will see a great return to those things that are beneficial for the people of the city.”
That’s one of the reasons Gaddy and his wife Daphne started Victory Fellowship Church in 2006. The city needs new churches. Only one in 10 metro Detroit residents claims to be an evangelical Christian. The city has one evangelical church for every 3,641 people and one Southern Baptist church for every 36,221 people in the metro area.

Joe Garrad, NAMB
Young children walk and play after a wedding at Victory Fellowship Church in Detroit. Without youth, a city’s future stifles, pastor Daryl Gaddy says. Victory Fellowship – the youngest Southern Baptist church plant within Detroit’s city limits – works with a variety of other organizations providing job training and mentoring for neighborhood youth.

“There is a need for churches that are serious about the Lord’s business,” said Gaddy, whose ministry is the subject of a photo essay in the most recent issue of On Mission magazine, which has been redesigned as a tool for the North American Mission Board’s development of its Send North America strategy for reaching the nation’s population centers with the Gospel.
“There is a need for churches who understand that we are the voice of God in the community and that we’ve been sent to be servants in this world, to impact the lives of others with the Gospel,” Gaddy said.
Gaddy had been a pastor, serving on the staff of his father-in-law’s church when God began to nudge him toward church planting to reach a generation of inner-city youth who weren’t attending traditional congregations. Noticing a little bit of himself in the youth, he began a small group Bible study in the bookstore his family owned.
Gaddy accepted Christ at a young age, but with no one to mentor him in the faith he drifted far from God. Drugs, alcohol and illicit relationships followed. Though in time he came back to God, Gaddy always carried the sting of not having a mentor to help him grow.
Through his own experience and by spending time around his children and their peers, Gaddy realized that a huge part of inner-city Detroit’s woes stemmed from the need for mentoring – particularly among boys and young men.
Even before starting Victory Fellowship, Gaddy had long been involved in mentoring youth through a local Scout troop, writing public school mentoring curriculum and one-on-one mentoring. Through the new church plant he became even more involved when it moved into a former Episcopal church building on the corner of Detroit’s Frankfort and Lakewood streets.
“We moved into that community, and we engaged a lot of rough behavior,” Gaddy said. “A lot of kids didn’t have parents and were living on the streets carrying guns and just conducting themselves in ways that were not going to be beneficial for their futures.
“We built relationships, loved on them, walked the streets with them and showed them genuine love, care and concern. We didn’t just preach to them. But letting them know that ‘I’m you and you’re me. You are doing what I used to do. But guess what, where I am is where you can be also.’”
Victory Fellowship mentors young people both formally and informally. The church’s senior women – called the Mature and Marvelous Saints – provide mentoring support for young mothers. The church’s laymen’s ministry, Brothers for Others, similarly mentors young men.
The men come together every other week on a Wednesday, “and they talk about some of the issues that involve being a man and living as a man in the community, home and the church – how to not have to go to extremes as a man but to be the priest of your own home, how to care for and love your family,” Gaddy said. “And also how to be a leader in the community.”
Knowing that many of the youth in the community struggle with basic job skills, Victory Fellowship has started a job-training program. The program not only helps prepare high school youth for their futures but provides them with funds for their pockets now. The youth run a silkscreen shop in the church, for example, to create Christ-centered clothing they sell to their peers.
Through partnerships with the police department, the mayor’s office, the governor’s office and the public schools, the church provides behavior counseling for youth, financial literacy programs for young mothers and a computer lab where students can finish their high school education. They’ve also partnered with the Navy to teach kids aviation.
“A lot of people would say that we couldn’t do what we’ve done because we have not had the resources financially,” Gaddy said. “But what I’ve found is that God will send you the partners at the right time, for the right reason. When you’re in for ministry and not serving for money ... God will provide for the ministry.”
Gaddy believes the best may be yet to come for his hometown. With Detroit being in economic and social flux, new opportunities for influencing the city’s future are emerging. Through Send North America and the partnership of Southern Baptists, Gaddy is praying for more churches to start in the city and for the gospel to begin to take root.
“But it’s going to take some help,” Gaddy said. “It’s going to take some folks who have the Word and who have the heart and who have the resources to come into the city and to partner with those of us in the city.
“Those of us who recognize that the time is now, we must begin to take up the cross, walk forward and do the work of God,” Gaddy said. “And so I just say that if there is a call of God, if there’s ever been a call of God, the time is now.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board. For more information about partnering in Detroit through Send North America, visit namb.net/Detroit. Visit namb.net/onmission to subscribe to the redesigned.)
1/23/2014 1:15:30 PM by Tobin Perry, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

On Mission magazine debuts redesign

January 23 2014 by Joe Conway, North American Mission Board/Baptist Press

ALPHARETTA, Ga. – The North American Mission Board’s flagship publication, On Mission, has undergone a redesign, and something of a re-launch, with the New Year.
“Beginning with the current issue, we have begun to organize the magazine around the themes of gospel, mission and ministry,” said Aaron Coe, NAMB vice president for mobilization and marketing and editor in chief of On Mission. “This makes the magazine a tool for use in our Send North America strategy development process. It also allows for the stories we produce, both print and video, to be used in multiple formats.”

Aaron Coe, NAMB vice president for mobilization and marketing and editor in chief of On Mission.

The magazine, delivered to readers in mid-January, aims to help awaken people to the need for authentic expressions of the gospel and church planting in North America. Coe shared how one initial response already met that expectation.
“We heard from one pastor who shared a vulnerable moment with us,” Coe said. “He said that God had impressed on him that his church needed to be involved in church planting in Detroit, but that he had not been able to take the necessary steps to see it happen. He said seeing the photos of Detroit in On Mission sealed his conviction and his church is connecting with Detroit now.”
In addition to a photo essay on the need for church planting in Detroit (one of 32 cities in NAMB’s Send North America church planting strategy), the current issue also has an interview with Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and features on human trafficking.
On Mission originally launched in 1998 at the SBC annual meeting in Salt Lake City. It has twice been selected as the Evangelical Press Association’s missions magazine of the year and has frequently won Baptist Communicators Association and EPA awards for writing, reporting, design and photography.
“We hope to strike a balance between mainstream cultural intrigue and missional engagement,” Coe said. “With Detroit such a hot topic right now in the culture, it seemed like the perfect time to do a story about the city.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. To receive a free subscription to On Mission, call 1-888-239-3990 or complete an online form at www.namb.net/onmission.)
1/23/2014 1:05:54 PM by Joe Conway, North American Mission Board/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

‘Gospel and sexuality’ topic of ERLC summit

January 23 2014 by Baptist Press staff

NASHVILLE – Engaging sexual ethics from a gospel perspective will be the theme of the inaugural leadership summit sponsored by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Titled “The Gospel and Human Sexuality,” the first ERLC Leadership Summit will be held April 21-23 in Nashville, it was announced Tuesday (Jan. 21). The event – which is intended to equip pastors, church leaders and other Christians – will be held at the SBC building.
The summit will seek to explain “how the gospel shapes our sexual identities, redeems sexual desire and sets free those who are held captive to sin’s bondage,” according to the ERLC. The event will include plenary addresses, panel discussions and breakout sessions.
“So many of the questions that pastors grapple with today deal with situations that would not even have been possible a generation ago,” Russell D. Moore, the ERLC’s president, said.
“As technology advances and the culture changes, the questions that we have to grapple with are often increasingly complex,” he said. “At the ERLC Leadership Summit, we’ll talk about these questions, and how we can be faithful in ministry, gospel-focused in engagement and Christ-shaped spiritual warriors in the ways we seek to wrestle with the principalities and powers of this age.”
The summit will address such issues as marital sexuality, moral purity, discussions with teenagers on sex, pastoral care for sexual immorality, pornography, homosexuality, sex trafficking, and biblical manhood and womanhood.
Among the speakers will be Moore; J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh/Durham (N.C.) area; Trillia Newbell, the ERLC’s consultant for women’s initiatives; and Mark Regnerus, author and associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas-Austin.
Registration and more information are available online at http://erlc.com/summit. The plenary sessions will be live-streamed at erlc.com.
Announcement of the summit came two weeks after the ethics entity unveiled its ERLC Leadership Network. The network is open to men and women who seek to identify with the ERLC’s gospel-focused approach to cultural issues in their roles as pastors, leaders or lay people. The entity also introduced at that time the ERLC Leadership Network Council, which consists of 31 Southern Baptist pastors or leaders who will provide guidance to the network and receive training from the ERLC staff.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief.)
1/23/2014 12:50:26 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

ADF may appeal ruling against CPCs

January 23 2014 by Baptist Press staff

NEW YORK – Alliance Defending Freedom may continue its fight against a New York City law regulating crisis pregnancy centers, after an appeals court reinstated a portion of the law ADF says will block free speech.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 17 upheld a portion of a lower federal judge’s decision to toss the city law, but the appeals court reinstated a portion of the law that requires centers to disclose whether they have medical personnel on staff. The appeals court erred in upholding the third provision, said ADL Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, who argued the case before the 2nd Circuit on behalf of two pregnancy centers and a maternity home.
“The appeals court rightly affirmed that the city cannot force pregnancy centers to communicate some city-crafted messages that encourage women to go elsewhere, but the court left one provision in place that still does that,” Bowman said in a press release on the ADF’s website. “Because this type of compelled speech is not constitutional, we are considering our options for appeal regarding the remaining provision of New York City’s ordinance.”
The appeals court’s three-judge panel agreed with a 2011 district court ruling that struck down portions of the law requiring centers to notify women whether the center offers abortions, to tell women whether a center has licensed medical providers on staff and to encourage women to consult with medical providers.
“The district court’s order kept the city from enforcing the totality of its anti-speech ordinance, which some city officials designed to deter women from receiving the help they need to make fully informed choices about their pregnancy,” Bowman said. “The 2nd Circuit reinstated one provision of the ordinance but did not provide any clarity as to whom it applies and when the city’s language must be recited. The district court was right about the vagueness of the entire ordinance. It should be completely invalidated.”
The 2nd Circuit ruled the law’s requirement to inform women that the center does not offer abortions “requires centers to mention controversial services that some pregnancy services centers, such as plaintiffs in this case, oppose.”
The ruling continued: “A requirement that pregnancy services centers address abortion, emergency contraception, or prenatal care at the beginning of their contact with potential clients alters the centers’ political speech by mandating the manner in which the discussion of these issues begins. The centers must be free to formulate their own address.”
The appeals court also struck a provision that centers post a sign saying “the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encourages women who are or who may be pregnant to consult with a licensed provider.” The court said if the city wanted to get that message across, it could do so through its own ad campaign, not through pregnancy centers.
ADF is concerned about another part of the appeals court ruling. The lower judge had ruled that the city’s definition of a pregnancy center was too vague. The 2nd Circuit said the definition of a center – which amounts to any counseling center that looks medical – was fine. One of the judges, in a concurring opinion that dissented from that part of the ruling, said the definition was a “bureaucrat’s dream,” because city officials could enforce the regulation on whomever they wanted. Bowman agreed.
“The city can decide to persecute pro-life centers just because they don’t like the way they look,” Bowman said.
ADF has until Jan. 31 to decide whether to appeal that part of the three-judge panel’s decision to a full panel of the 2nd Circuit. Newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he, like his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, supports the city law and would pursue appeals if it was struck down.
The case was argued back in 2012, but the 2nd Circuit often takes time to deliver its rulings because it’s one of the busiest appeals courts in the country.
The case stems from an appeal by the City of New York of a 2011 federal court order prohibiting the city from enforcing the ordinance that threatened non-medical, pro-life pregnancy services centers with heavy fines and possible closure if they didn’t provide posted, printed and oral notices crafted by the city that would have encouraged women to go elsewhere. The ADF had charged in a lawsuit that the city ordinance was unconstitutional.
Launched in 1994, the ADF describes itself as “a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, including reports from the WORLD News Service.)
1/23/2014 12:38:58 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

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