January 2014

Fla. Baptist Convention ‘confident’ $12.5 mil judgment will be overturned

January 22 2014 by Joni B. Hannigan, Florida Baptist Witness

JACKSONVILLE – Attorneys for the Florida Baptist Convention Tuesday indicated they are “confident” a judgment by a Lake County jury to award $12.5 million to a man who was molested by a former church-planting pastor in the state will be overturned on appeal.
“That confidence is based, in large part, on the jury’s express finding that Myers was an independent pastor who was not hired, employed or supervised by the Convention,” Gary Yeldell, the Florida Baptist Convention’s attorney-of-record, stated.
The jury reached its conclusion Jan. 18, after a six-day trial on the issue of damages.
Yeldell said as a general rule the Florida Baptist Convention does not specifically comment on pending litigation, but added: “The recent verdict from the trial in Lake County is not yet final, nor will the matter be concluded once the trial verdict becomes final.  The Convention remains confident that the appellate court will overturn the jury's verdict.”

Douglas Myers

In June 2012 the Florida Baptist Convention filed two post-trial motions in the case seeking reversal of an “inconsistent” May 17 jury verdict that found it liable for sex abuse committed by Douglas W. Myers.
Myers, 64, was found guilty and in 2012 completed serving a seven-year sentence for molesting a 13-year-old in 2005 while Myers was pastor of Triangle Community Church in Eustis.
A prior judge ruled that liability and damages had to be tried separately.
After a two-week trial in May 2012, the jury found Lake County Baptist Association and Bay Street Baptist Church at least partially at fault although each party had previously made a financial settlement with the plaintiffs.
In a statement published in June 2012, John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, had called the motions “perplexing” but indicated “the good news is that the jury found that the church planter/pastor was never an employee of the Florida Baptist Convention.”
Sullivan added: “regardless of the outcome of the motions – or the likely appeal to the appellate courts – we cannot let this case hinder our efforts to support church planting efforts in our state.”
An argument made in the January 2014 case for liability directed attention to the Convention because of a grant to the Lake County Baptist Association for church planting – and the listing of the churches in a Florida Baptist Convention Annual and among new church plants in articles supplied to the Florida Baptist Witness by the Florida Baptist Convention. Both churches Myers planted are now defunct.
An attorney in 2012 had previously stated the argument is invalid because there is an explicit statement in the Annual that notes persons listed are “solely for information purposes with no endorsement or approval implied or expressed.”
In addition, according to Baptist polity, churches (of which there are more than 3,000 in Florida) are autonomous, solely responsible for hiring its own pastors – in contrast to other denominations.
What that means is that unlike other denominations or religious groups, individual members of Southern Baptist churches and leadership teams vote to make decisions about who to hire as their pastor, how to build local houses of worship, how to budget their offerings, etc., in their local congregations – although they may choose to attend regional, state or national meetings in order to voluntarily cooperate in order to participate in larger projects. They have a bottom up, instead of a top down structure that people of other faith traditions might not be accustomed to.
After he was released from prison in December 2012, Myers was extradited to face charges in Maryland. He entered that state's equivalent of a no-contest plea to three counts of custodial child abuse and was sentenced in October in Calvert County, Md., to 45 years in prison all but 15 years suspended, news reports show. The offenses occurred in December 1997, April 1999, and March 2001.
The Convention completed criminal, traffic and credit background checks, as well as personal references on Myers, according to a previous Witness story. After the charges in Lake County surfaced, some persons in prior churches came forward saying they had concerns. That said, a minister in Maryland who served with Myers said at the time he had no reason to be suspicious and would have not divulged the allegations, according to a Convention attorney.
In 2013, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Houston passed a resolution expressing affirmation for children and recognized the “ever-increasing criminal offense” of the sexual abuse of children even within “Southern Baptist congregations.”
The resolution, in part, reminded “all Southern Baptists of their legal and moral responsibility to report any accusations of child abuse to authorities,” to “pray for children who are victims of abuse, to stand for their protection from abuse, and to support safe and healthy children’s ministries in our churches and communities.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joni B. Hannigan is the managing editor for the Florida Baptist Witness.)
1/22/2014 1:27:09 PM by Joni B. Hannigan, Florida Baptist Witness | with 0 comments

Kenneth Bae ‘confession’ aired by N. Korea

January 22 2014 by Baptist Press staff

PYONGYANG, North Korea – Kenneth Bae, an American citizen sentenced to 15 years in a North Korean labor camp, reportedly confessed to committing a “serious crime” against the communist dictatorship where he has been held for 15 months.
In a videotaped “press conference” released Monday (Jan. 20) through China’s state-run news agency Xinhua, Bae said he had not experienced abusive treatment in North Korea, according to CNN.
“I would like to plead with the U.S. government, press and my family to stop worsening my situation by making vile rumors against North Korea and releasing materials related to me, which are not based on the facts,” Bae said in the video.

Kenneth Bae

“I want to be pardoned by the North as soon as possible and return to my beloved family. For that, I ask the U.S. government, press and my family to make more active efforts and pay more attention,” Bae said.
Terri Chung, Bae’s sister, released a statement in response, saying the family understands he has been convicted of crimes under North Korean laws.
“Our family sincerely apologizes on Kenneth’s behalf,” Chung said, according to CNN. “Kenneth has also acknowledged his crimes and has apologized. He has now served 15 months of his sentence, but faces chronic health problems. We humbly ask for your mercy to release my brother.”
CNN noted that North Korea has a history of releasing false “confessions” from prisoners. In December, an 85-year-old Korean War veteran, Merrill Newman, was released after being forced to give a false confession.
Bae’s profile was raised earlier this month by a televised outburst from former NBA star Dennis Rodman, who later apologized for insinuating Bae had committed a crime. A family-run website advocating for Bae’s release says he is a devout Christian.
“Several years ago, Kenneth saw an opportunity that combined his entrepreneurial spirit with his personal convictions as a Christian,” the website, freekennow.com, states. “He believed in showing compassion to the North Korean people by contributing to their economy in the form of tourism.”
Bae, 45, was arrested in November 2012 as he was leading a tour group in one of North Korea’s special economic zones for foreign investors.
The U.S. State Department, in a statement Jan. 20, said it was aware of Bae’s reported confession.
“As we have said before, we remain very concerned about Kenneth Bae’s health,” spokesperson Jen Psaki said. “We continue to urge the authorities to grant Bae amnesty and immediate release.”
The State Department continues regular, close consultation with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang toward securing Bae’s freedom, Psaki said.
Reuters said Jan. 20 that following the confession, the United States offered to send Robert King, U.S. special envoy to North Korea, to Pyongyang to negotiate for Bae’s release.
“We hope this decision by DPRK authorities to allow Kenneth Bae to meet with reporters signals their willingness to release him,” an administration official told Reuters on condition of anonymity, adding that the United States was waiting for a response from North Korea.
Fox News reported that Bae was allowed to call home Dec. 29 because of the holidays, and that was the first time his three children had spoken with him since he was captured.
As the website advocating for his freedom explains, Bae started a tour company based in China in 2006 and regularly led groups to North Korea, “a remote country filled with stunning vistas and a people proud of their history and tradition.”
“His livelihood,” the website states, “was to introduce the natural beauty of the country and its people to the outside world as a tour operator. His heart was to be a personal touch-point of compassionate humanity to the North Korean people.”
In comments to Baptist Press Jan. 14, Bae’s sister said a friend who had gone on one of Bae’s tours described him as “an ambassador of peace and light in the world.”
“That captures what Kenneth was trying to do in North Korea,” Chung told BP. “He had the biggest heart for the people and the nation of North Korea, and he wanted to show tourists from Europe, Canada and the United States a different side to the country than what we typically see in the western media in the hopes of bridging the cultural divide.”
When he was arrested, Bae was on at least his 15th such trip. CNN reported that North Korea accused him of planning to bring down the government through religious activities.
North Korea was ranked as the world’s top persecuter of Christians for the 12th consecutive year in a report released Jan. 8 by Open Doors, which seeks to strengthen the persecuted church.
The officially atheist state practices a cult-like worship of the Kim family and continues to imprison from 50,000 to 70,000 followers of Christ in concentration camps, prisons or prison-like conditions, according to Open Doors. Possessing a Bible could result in execution or a life sentence in prison.
CNN estimated 200,000 people are kept in a network of prison camps in North Korea, and the U.S. State Department has placed North Korea on its list of “countries of particular concern” for its violations of religious freedom.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach.)
1/22/2014 1:03:57 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

WMU challenged to raise missions bar

January 22 2014 by Julie Walters, WMU/Baptist Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.  – Raising the bar of missions involvement was the challenge woven throughout national WMU’s board meeting at Shocco Springs Conference Center in Talladega, Ala.
National WMU President Debby Akerman said in her address, “With Jesus’ words in Mark 8:34, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,’ the bar was raised for those following Jesus.”
“For the disciples He had called, as well as those who were the unnamed, not yet committed faces in the crowd, Jesus raised the bar of discipleship to a level that would now require wholehearted surrender, sacrifice and service,” Akerman told state WMU executive directors and staff, state WMU presidents, and national WMU staff.
“A level that would connect the Great Commandment to love God with all your heart, soul and mind and your neighbor as yourself, to the Great Commission, to go into all the world to teach all nations,” she said during the Jan. 11-13 meeting. “It requires sacrificial living.

Debby Akerman, president of national WMU, issues a challenge to "raise the bar" for missions involvement in her address during WMU’s board meeting at Shocco Springs Conference Center in Alabama.

“We, too, must say with those who came before us, taking up the Calvary cross of sacrifice, that we will wholeheartedly follow Jesus and do whatever My Lord gives me to do.”
Tom Elliff, IMB president, also illustrated the need for raising the bar of missions involvement with some statistics:
  • 75 percent of the world’s population live in areas hostile to the Christian faith.
  • Almost two-thirds of IMB’s budget comes from the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. This offering provides funding for the almost 4,900 missionaries on the field.
Currently there are 864 strategic need requests from the field but the current budget will only allow 576 new personnel to be sent this year. There are missionary candidates in the application process who could fill the remaining strategic needs if more funding were available.
“We need spiritual revival,” the International Mission Board’s leader said. “Missionaries working in difficult places would never be sustained by a mediocre faith.
“Missions involvement cannot be limited to a trip, or a focus for one week during the week of prayer,” he said. “We must have a furnace of prayer, 365 days a year, to pray for an awakening across our nation and to pray for the nations.”
Pedro Hernandez, a missionary with the North American Mission Board, also underscored the importance of an awakening across the nation and the critical role of prayer. He and his wife Marjorie are church planters within the New York Baptist Convention. 
Evangelical Christians comprise roughly 4 percent of the population in the New York metro area, Hernandez said. There are about 220 churches, which translates as one church for every 76,000 people.
“Many people in our area are apathetic,” he said. “They view God as a myth or maybe something even good, but not for them. Think of our metro areas as a training ground to reach post-modern culture.”
Hernandez expressed gratitude for all of the prayers, especially in regard to Hurricane Sandy, which opened doors for ministry as people experienced tremendous loss.
“You may not see the results of your prayers,” he said, “but they go far and make a difference. Day after day, we see prayers answered. God is working. We need to raise the bar. They are never enough prayers. There is never enough missions.”
Andrew Mann, also a church planter with the North American Mission Board, serves in the Bronx as pastor/executive director of Graffiti 2 Community Ministries with the assistance of Proof, a professional therapy dog that works beside him in the ministry.
Mann also thanked Woman’s Missionary Union for their prayer support and for raising awareness about human exploitation. “WMU brings a breath of life to a church,” he said. “You are such a blessing. Through your Project HELP focus on Human Exploitation, you helped raise awareness in our area of needs related to human trafficking in New York City.”
In closing, Akerman said, “WMU in our churches strengthens every generation to live surrendered to the call of Jesus to follow Him. As WMU guides our churches to look at the world through the eyes of Jesus and to love the world through the heart of God, Who so loved the world that He gave us Jesus, they will have a biblical, missional worldview.
“We extend a call to our churches and all who are part of WMU to live a totally surrendered life in Christ,” she said, “to live a life marked by personal sacrifice to advance the Gospel of Christ, and to live as a servant of our King Jesus through the missions objectives of WMU.”
In other business, the Executive Board of national WMU:
  • Awarded nearly $178,000 in endowments, grants and scholarships in partnership with the WMU Foundation.
  • Approved $175 million as goal for the 2014 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
  • Approved $60 million as goal for the 2015 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
  • Adopted a new achievement plan for Royal Ambassadors, called RA Trek, to be available in the fall.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie Walters is the corporate communications team leader for WMU.)
1/22/2014 12:46:59 PM by Julie Walters, WMU/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Coburn to retire; Lankford to run

January 22 2014 by Baptist Press staff

WASHINGTON – Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, one of the chamber’s most outspoken conservatives, has announced he will retire at the end of the 113th Congress – two years short of the end of his second term.
Rep. James Lankford, a Southern Baptist like Coburn, announced Monday (Jan. 20) he will run for the Republican nomination to the open Senate seat.
Coburn, a physician and a member of First Baptist Church in Muskogee, said he made the decision after “much prayer and consideration.”
“Serving as Oklahoma’s senator has been, and continues to be, one of the great privileges and blessings of my life,” he said in a statement.

Senator Tom Coburn

The 65-year-old politician has been fighting cancer, but he said his decision is not related to his health. He cited his desire to only remain in Congress for a limited time. “I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere,” he said.
Coburn, who served three terms in the House from 1995 to 2001, is a social conservative known as the Senate’s premiere fiscal hawk who highlights government spending problems in his annual Wastebook.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky., called Coburn “one of the most intelligent, principled and decent men” in the recent history of the Senate.
“And when it comes to the transcendent debate over the size and cost of government, Tom Coburn is simply without peer,” McConnell said in a statement. “No one has done more to awaken Americans to the threat posed by a government that chronically spends more than it takes in, and no one has worked harder at finding a solution.”
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, has set a primary election for Coburn’s seat on June 24 and a general election for the final two years of his term on Nov. 4 – the same day Sen. Jim Inhofe, R.-Okla., is up for re-election.
Coburn’s retirement is unlikely to change the balance of power in the Senate, since Oklahoma is a mostly conservative state.
Lankford, in announcing his candidacy in Oklahoma City, said he decided to enter the race after “a great deal of prayer and encouragement.”
Coburn’s hints in recent months of a possible retirement, Lankford said, “gave our family plenty of time to pray and think through a possible run for the Senate.”
“I believe that the conservative solutions that can be proposed and that I’ll bring can help families from every race, every economic background from every town in our country,” Lankford said.
When Coburn announced his retirement Jan. 16, Lankford said in a written statement, “In the three years I have served in the House, I looked to Dr. Coburn as the epitome of a citizen legislator. He kept his eye on the ball and worked relentlessly to bring sanity to government fiscal policy. His leadership and wise counsel will be missed.”
Lankford, a member of Quail Springs Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, has ascended quickly in the GOP ranks. In only his second term, he serves in the House of Representatives leadership as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. A graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lankford was program director at the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Falls Creek summer camp from 1996 to 2009.
U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R.-Tulsa, and Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R.-Lawton, have signaled they also are considering running to succeed Coburn, The Daily Oklahoman reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Based on reports by J.C. Derrick of WORLD News Service and Tom Strode, Baptist Press Washington bureau chief. WORLD News Service is a division of WORLD Magazine (www.worldmag.com) based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)
1/22/2014 12:31:21 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Florida Baptist Convention plans to appeal $12.5 million fine

January 21 2014 by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor

A Lake County, Fla. jury has awarded $12.5 million to a 21-year-old man in sexual assault case. The jury said the Florida Baptist Convention would have to pay these damages.
Douglas Myers, 64, founded two Baptist churches in Lake County in the mid-2000s: Harbor Baptist Fellowship in Howey-in-the-Hills and Triangle Community Church in Eustis.

Douglas Myers

Myers met the unnamed teenager at Bay Street Baptist Church in Lake County and abused him over the course of six months. He also took the young man on trips to Walt Disney World, gave him money and drove him to school.
Myers served a seven-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to lewd and lascivious molestation. He was released from prison December 2012, but faced three counts of custodial child abuse charges in Maryland where he served as pastor at Dunkirk Baptist Church in Dunkirk, Md. Myers was sentenced in October 2013 to 45 years in prison with 30 years suspended.
There are other allegations from another pastorate at Concord Baptist Church in Russellville, Ala.
In May 2012 a Lake County, Fla. jury held the Florida Baptist Convention liable in the Myers case. Testimony in the liability portion of Myers' Florida trial showed that the convention ran criminal-background, motor-vehicle and credit checks on Myers but failed to check his references or contact the churches where he previously worked.
After a recent six-day trial, a different Lake County jury unanimously agreed last week to award the 21-year-old man $12.5 million for damages.
Barbara Denman, Florida Baptist Convention spokeswoman, said Myers wasn't an "employee" of the convention. He served as a "church planter" who assisted in starting churches and received a stipend from the church.
"What we do is we provide money to the church, and our churches hire whoever they want," she said.
Florida Baptist Convention attorney, Gary Yeldell, said the convention will appeal the jury's decision.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael McEwen is the Biblical Recorder’s Content Editor.)
1/21/2014 2:47:38 PM by Michael McEwen, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

New president named by American Bible Society

January 21 2014 by Baptist Press staff

NEW YORK – The American Bible Society has named a new president, Roy Peterson, who will begin his duties in February at the New York-based ministry.
Peterson currently is president and CEO of The Seed Company, a ministry based in Arlington, Texas, that has been a catalyst for 800 Bible translation projects/partnerships worldwide by organizations, groups and individuals since its launch in 1993 by Wycliffe Bible Translators.
01-21-14peterson.jpgRoy Peterson
Pieter Dearolf, board chairman of the American Bible Society, said Peterson's "decades-long leadership in Bible translation and depth of experience will serve him well as he helps lead American Bible Society into our third century of ministry."
Peterson joined The Seed Company in 2003. He had been president and CEO of Wycliffe USA since 1997 and had spent eight years in Ecuador and Guatemala in various Wycliffe leadership positions. Peterson previously held management positions with U.S. Shoe Corporation, Florsheim Corporation and American Greetings Corporation.
"American Bible Society's history and influence in the world of all-things Bible cannot be overstated," Peterson said in an ABS news release Jan. 15. "I am looking forward to joining this dynamic organization, especially within this historic moment for Bible mission."
Peterson replaces Douglas Birdsall, who was terminated by the ABS board in October after six months as the Bible society's president. Dearolf said at the time that the ABS board and Birdsall, who previously led the Lausanne Movement, had "significant differences" to spreading the Bible around the world. Birdsall, in his own statement, said, "There are times when the vision and style of a new leader does not mesh satisfactorily with the culture of an established organization or with the expectations of a board."
Birdsall's dismissal prompted protests by a dozen evangelical leaders, including Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, and author/commentator Eric Metaxas.
Peterson holds a master's degree in social science/leadership studies from Azusa Pacific University and an undergraduate degree in business administration from Roger Williams College.
He and his wife Rita have three children and three grandchildren.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.)
1/21/2014 12:21:47 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Herbalist credits God with healings in Southeast Asia

January 21 2014 by Evelyn Adamson, Baptist Press

SOUTHEAST ASIA – The sun appears to be in no hurry as it rises above the mountains, dispelling the morning mist. Tangled forests towering with teakwood trees and twisted vines frame a bustling town on one Southeast Asian isle.
Outside Budi Perkasa’s* clinic, benches are crowded with patients waiting for an appointment with him. Perkasa’s reputation as a healer precedes him in these parts, and many who seek him are searching for an answer modern medicine cannot offer.
“On average, the people that come to my clinic are people who have given up hope,” Perkasa said. “They have gone from hospital to hospital, some even internationally, but they have not found healing.”
“When they come to our clinic, by God’s mercy, often He grants miracles and they find healing,” said Perkasa, who for two years has served and faithfully prayed for his ill, unbelieving patients.
“Eighty-five percent have a crisis of faith within themselves. I shoot straight with them, saying I cannot heal you, but the power of Jesus can.”
Perkasa’s patients have been miraculously healed of cataracts, tumors have disappeared overnight from their bodies, and damaged organs have been restored.

Photo by Ryan Roco, IMB
In the Southeast Asian clinic of herbalist Budi Perkasa (name changed), patients who are followers of Islam perform their daily prayers while waiting to see Perkasa, a Christian convert who credits God with miraculously healing his patients.

“I pray for them, but I do not have the power to heal them,” Perkasa said. “That is God’s job. Only He can do that.”
Perkasa recounts the story of a young boy whose family brought him to the clinic as a last resort. Born with a hole in his heart, the boy spent much of his younger years in a hospital bed, not responding to treatments. After Perkasa shared the gospel and prayed for the young boy, the hole in his heart sealed and disappeared.
Born into a strict Islamic family, Perkasa’s journey of faith began two years ago when in town on business, he encountered Christian workers Curtis and JoAnn Brinks.*
A distinct breed of goats first drew Perkasa to the Brinks. The goats were imported as a breeding project and were hailed the best in the region. The Brinks took Perkasa to see the famous goats.
He heard the gospel presentation during the visit, and an inner wrestling began in his heart. He decided to follow Christ and renounced his Islamic faith.
His family, learning of his conversion, called him to dinner and a fight ensued. Perkasa was beaten and struck in the head with a pistol. To this day, he insists God protected him, as he “did not feel any pain.”
Perkasa began visiting the Brinks daily, studying the Scriptures in their home.
JoAnn Brinks recalls those early days of Perkasa’s tumultuous journey.
“You can’t back away from someone who is experiencing persecution,” she said. “It’s something you have to live along with the person.”
While Perkasa watched his relationship with his family fall apart, he cemented his new identity in Christ.
“There was a time I didn’t know if I could go on, but after I was baptized, I had boldness,” Perkasa said. “I was not afraid anymore.”
“I prayed, ‘God, what should I do? I want to share your glory.’”
The answer to his prayers came when people began seeking him for healing. His father was a famous herbal medicine doctor in Southeast Asia, working everywhere from Malaysia to China. The youngest son, Perkasa traveled and learned the craft from his father. But trained as a businessman, Perkasa had not practiced medicine in many years.
“Praise God He brought what I studied when I was young back to my mind,” Perkasa said.
God began sending people to Perkasa from all over the country, and in that year alone, Perkasa said, he shared the gospel with over 1,500 people.
Many whom Perkasa served came from the poorest communities where medical care is typically unaffordable. He normally ran the clinic from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. on weekdays, traveling on weekends to treat the sick in outlying villages.
While Perkasa credits God with the healings, Perkasa’s earthly father greatly influenced his work. “What pushes me is what I learned from my father. Herbal medicine mixtures are created for the symptoms of the patient. However, I am certain it is not the medicine heals them, but Jesus Christ.”
Seeing God heal people through Perkasa challenged the Brinks family.
“That’s been stretching for our faith, to realize God still does heal people instantly,” she said. “This is a reality we see and we believe. The power of God to heal is very valid.”
Perkasa remains assured of his faith.
“I have a principle. I will only live once, there is no twice,” he said. “I have to love all people and all people have to know who God is.”
Perkasa continues to study the scriptures with Curtis Brinks and manages the clinic, hoping to see a church grow among his patients. Until that time, Perkasa said he’ll keep moving forward, witnessing and healing in Jesus’ name.
*Names changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Evelyn Adamson is a writer working in Southeast Asia.)
1/21/2014 12:04:12 PM by Evelyn Adamson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Racial diversity in churches remains elusive

January 20 2014 by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Having a racially diverse church remains more dream than reality for most Protestant pastors. More than eight in 10 (85 percent) say every church should strive for racial diversity, according to a survey from LifeWay Research.
But few have diverse flocks.
Most (86 percent) say their congregation is predominately one racial or ethnic group.
It’s a reality that once led Martin Luther King Jr. to call Sunday mornings the most segregated time of the week.

Photo courtesy of LifeWay Research

Today, diverse churches remain rare, says Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, partly because of human nature.
“Everybody wants diversity,” Stetzer said. “But many don’t want to be around people who are different.”
The research study also found 91 percent say “churches should reflect the racial diversity in their community,” and 79 percent believe their congregations look similar to the people in their neighborhood.
But Mark DeYmaz, pastor of Mosaic Church, a multiethnic church in central Arkansas, is skeptical.
DeYmaz, who also helped found the Mosaix network of multiethnic churches, said pastors aren’t always aware of how diverse their communities have become. 
“Pastors would do well to look into the diversity of nearby public schools and gauge this against the diversity of their church to really understand their context,” he said. “They might, too, spend one hour sitting at the front of the nearby Walmart or other local grocery to see if in fact their church reflects the community.”
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows America is becoming increasingly diverse.
About 17 percent of Americans identify as Hispanic. African Americans make up 13 percent of the population, followed by Asian Americans (5 percent), and 1 percent Native American or Native Alaskan. Another 2.4 percent identify with more than one racial group.
Non-Hispanic whites make up 63 percent of the population. That number drops to about 49 percent for children under 5 years old, according to a recent report from the Associated Press.
DeYmaz sees the widespread support for the idea of diversity in the LifeWay Research poll as a good sign.
“We have gained tremendous ground over the past 10 years or so,” DeYmaz said.
A decade ago, he said, the first meeting of the Mosaix network drew about 30 people. A similar meeting last November drew more than 1,000.
He said pastors are more aware of the need for diversity in churches. In the past, DeYmaz and other leaders in multiethnic churches spent much of their time trying to convince other pastors about the need for diversity. Now they spend more time talking with pastors about strategies for creating diverse churches.
“Increasingly, their question is not, ‘Why should I?’ but, ‘How can I?’” he said.
Derwin Gray, pastor of Transformation Church, a multiethnic congregation in Indian Land, S.C., said if pastors want diverse congregations, they need to change their sermons.
He worries pastors support diversity for pragmatic rather than theological reasons.
Gray said the early Christian churches were racially diverse, but that idea was lost as churches divided along racial and ethnic lines.
He wants pastors to go back to the Bible to discover why churches should be diverse.
“We shouldn’t long for racial diversity. We should long for the proclamation of Jesus, which creates ethnic diversity,” Gray said. “The Apostle Paul didn’t start one church for Jews and one church for Gentiles in the New Testament. The Gospel brought people together.”
More focus on racial diversity in church could find a welcome audience.
A second LifeWay Research survey – this time an online panel of 1,036 Americans – found that three-quarters (78 percent) say “every church should strive for racial diversity.”
More than half (51 percent) say they would be most comfortable visiting a church where multiple ethnicities were well represented. Three-quarters also said churches should reflect the diversity of their communities.
There are some signs the number of diverse churches in the United States is growing.
A 2010 Faith Communities Today survey, which included 11,000 congregations of different faiths, found that about 12.5 percent of Protestant churches were multiethnic. That means in those churches no one ethnic group makes up more 80 percent of the congregation.
DeYmaz said moving diversity from a dream to a reality will take hard work.
“Wishful thinking in this regard will not bring increasing diversity to local churches for the sake of the gospel,” he said.
Methodology: The telephone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted in Sept. 4-19, 2013. The calling list was randomly drawn from a stratified list of Protestant churches. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution and denominational groups of Protestant churches. The completed sample is 1,007 phone interviews and provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
The online survey of adult Americans was conducted Sept. 6, 2013. A sample of an online panel representing the adult population of the U.S. was invited to participate.
Responses were weighted by region, age, ethnicity, gender and income to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,036 online surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error from this panel does not exceed +3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is senior writer for LifeWay Christian Resources’ Facts & Trends magazine.)
1/20/2014 11:20:12 AM by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Urban life receives first pro-life pregnancy center

January 20 2014 by Daniel James Devine, World News Service

Jackie Moffitt calls herself a “scaredy-cat.” The Georgia-born, white-skinned, dark-haired executive director of the Women’s Center of Northwest Indiana never planned to work in Gary, Ind., a city infamous for crime and murder. “I would run my tires bald to not get off at Grant, Burr, or Broadway,” she says of the three interstate exits for Gary.
Yet here she stands, checking in on the remodeling progress of her organization’s new Gary branch, housed on the bottom of a multistory brick building recently converted into apartments. With a historical hammered tin ceiling and suspended venting, the new pregnancy resource center sits in the heart of downtown, catercornered to the Gary Fire Department.
“This is the first pro-life organization to come into Gary. You’re standing in it,” says Moffitt, 53.
Gary is known not just as the hometown of late pop star Michael Jackson but as an impoverished and dysfunctional city. For five miles on Broadway, the main artery from downtown, half the shops are boarded up or empty, with broken windows and permanently locked gates. The mayor claims the true jobless rate is between 30 and 40 percent.

Arial shot of Gary, Ind.

In the ’90s, Gary earned the title “Murder Capital of the United States” for its homicide rate. Crime has fallen since then, but the city still recorded 55 violent deaths last year. More deaths occur at the Friendship Family Planning Clinic of Indiana, an abortion facility long in town. A Gary Planned Parenthood does abortion referrals. As in other cities, these facilities target African-American girls and women, whose abortions disproportionately account for a third of the U.S. total.
For the past several years, members of the pro-life movement have focused on planting pregnancy centers in urban settings to counter the work of abortionists. They have found the work arduous to launch and difficult to sustain. The effort in Gary has been no exception so far, but Moffitt and her co-laborers are staunchly determined to help preserve this city’s future.
Some Gary women, unexpectedly pregnant and unsure what to do, currently travel as far as 12 miles to an outside Women’s Center branch. There they get a free ultrasound and advice from pro-life counselors who hope they’ll keep the baby or place it for adoption. The long drive is a likely deterrent for women who don’t have their own cars.
Moffitt was aware of the need. But when a pastor in a neighboring city challenged her to plant a pregnancy center in Gary, the task seemed daunting. She told a co-worker, “It’s too much, it’s too big. We’re white.” (Eighty-five percent of Gary residents are black.) A Gary woman who pled for Moffitt to come to the city helped change her mind.
Hurdles followed. Several initially proposed locations fell through. When Moffitt and her board of directors found a location in a historical building, their remodel plans required rounds of approval from city, state and federal officials. Gary officials grilled them about the center’s purpose. It took nine months and multiple visits to city hall before they got the first building permit, issued in October.
Despite the delays, other elements fell providentially into place: Someone sold the Women’s Center the necessary construction lumber for a penny, and the leasing company offered to cover a $19,000 plumbing bill. A Gary resident, LaDonna Bazziel, heard about the planned branch on a Christian radio station and called Moffitt to help: She’ll be the facility’s new manager once it opens, as early as January. “I had been praying for a long time for something like this for our city,” says Bazziel, who is African-American and grew up in a single-parent home, like many of her potential clients.
James Lewis dealt with young girls getting pregnant during his more than 30 years as a pastor at a Gary church. “And of course they’re not going to tell the pastor they’re going to get an abortion.” Sometimes they would quietly drop out of church. Trapped in a cycle of poverty and lack of education, such women have difficulty moving beyond the daily pursuit of food, clothing, and shelter. With support and guidance, Lewis says, “many go on to marry and live productive lives. But it’s a struggle.”
One example of the struggle: La’Brittnie McCafferty, 25, is due to give birth to her fourth child in March. She holds on her lap a 1-year-old son named Syncere, who has a crystal earring and beautiful teardrop eyes. The next baby will be her last, she says: “I’m getting my tubes tied!” McCafferty lives alone with her children and will have to use day care in order to get a job. She says her boyfriend is in jail for traffic violations, and the father of her 3-year-old was murdered in a drive-by shooting in 2012. “All those drugs out there are making them lose their minds,” she says of the violence.
Moffitt hopes to offer clients more than just pregnancy counseling: They need parenting and life skills coaching, and most of all they need the gospel. But much is uncertain in Gary, including long-term funding, as it is in other urban settings. The pro-life umbrella organization Care Net, after launching an initiative in 2003 to plant pregnancy centers in urban areas, is currently rethinking its approach in part because of the difficulty of obtaining local financial support.
“In Gary, it’s a real step of faith, because they can’t support this,” admits Moffitt. But she adds, “Every day we’re not open, someone’s dying.” Although the effort to plant in Gary has been frustrating at times, “I know [God] wants us here because I would have quit. … But I can’t quit. If we quit, who’s going to do it?”
1/20/2014 10:59:41 AM by Daniel James Devine, World News Service | with 0 comments

Less buffer, more free speech

January 20 2014 by Emily Belz, World News Service

Thirteen years ago, the Supreme Court upheld a Colorado law that created an 8-foot buffer zone around any person who didn’t want to be approached while entering an abortion center. Justice Anthony Kennedy dissented from that ruling, saying the law was a direct violation of free speech.
That was then, and now a very different court is considering a challenge to an even broader buffer zone in McCullen v. Coakley. The 2007 Massachusetts law at issue created a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion centers for anyone but employees and clients, regardless of whether clients wanted to be approached. Supporters of the law say it helps prevent pro-life protestors from obstructing the entrance. But Massachusetts and the federal government already have various laws that forbid obstructing entrances to medical facilities.
“An injunction against groups and individuals who have interfered with access, keeping them back, I think that’s perfectly permissible,” said Mark Rienzi, the lawyer for pro-life sidewalk counselor Eleanor McCullen, in arguments Wednesday.

Eleanor McCullen, lead plaintiff in the case before the Supreme Court, outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston.

A majority of the court seemed leery about Massachusetts’ law. Even liberal Justice Elena Kagan expressed skepticism about the 35-foot rule. “You know, 35 feet is a ways,” she said. “It’s from this bench to the end of the court.” Later in the arguments she added, “I guess I’m a little bit hung up on why you need so much space.”
Kennedy made his continuing dislike for such laws clear. As a hypothetical, he said the law would bar an elderly woman from having “meaningful conversation” with women going into the clinic.
“There is no guarantee, as a doctrinal matter, to close, quiet conversations,” said Jennifer Grace Miller, the assistant attorney general of Massachusetts. “The question is, are there adequate alternatives? And in this particular instance in this record, there are adequate alternatives. Take, for example, the situation–”
“You say there’s no guarantee of talking quietly?” Kennedy interrupted. “Do you want me to write an opinion and say there’s no free speech right to quietly converse on an issue of public importance?”
With Kennedy’s thumb on the scale, the current court seems likely to rule the state buffer zone law unconstitutional at some level, and may declare buffer zones violations of free speech, full stop.
The justices had some extended discussion about what employees could say to clients within the buffer zone, if speech was restricted for everyone else.
“A woman is approaching the door of a clinic, and she enters the zone,” said Justice Samuel Alito. “Two other women approach her. One is an employee of the facility, the other is not. The first who is an employee of the facility says, ‘Good morning. This is a safe facility.’ The other one who’s not an employee says, ‘Good morning, this is not a safe facility.’ Now, under this statute, the first one has not committed a crime. The second one has committed a crime. And the only difference between the two is that they’ve expressed a different viewpoint.”
“Your Honor, I think what the statute distinguishes is based on what those two different people are doing,” responded Miller. The employee could talk because she was “escorting that individual into the facility” as part of her job, she said.
The lawyer for Massachusetts as well as the lawyer for the federal government, which sided with the state, reminded the justices of their own precedent as well as multiple lower federal court rulings that had upheld buffer zone laws. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Massachusetts’ buffer zone law in January of last year.
The 1st Circuit based its ruling on the Supreme Court precedent in the Colorado case. Rienzi argued that the Massachusetts law shouldn’t survive under the precedent in the Colorado case, because the Colorado law at least allowed sidewalk counselors to approach willing recipients. He didn’t go so far as to ask the court to overturn its precedent and throw out buffer zone laws entirely.
The normally chatty Chief Justice John Roberts did not say anything during the arguments. But he has issued broad defenses of free speech rights in the past. He wrote the decision in Snyder v. Phelps, the case concerning Westboro Baptist protestors at a fallen Marine’s funeral. Roberts acknowledged that the protestors were “hurtful” to the grieving family but maintained their right to protest.
“Speech is powerful,” Roberts wrote in 2011. “It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and–as it did here–inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a nation we have chosen a different course–to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”
1/20/2014 10:46:43 AM by Emily Belz, World News Service | with 0 comments

Displaying results 31-40 (of 88)
 |<  <  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9  >  >|