January 2014

South Sudan Christians see glimmer of hope

January 15 2014 by Baptist Press staff

SOUTH SUDAN – A breakthrough between warring factions in South Sudan has provided a glimmer of hope that the mostly Christian nation may escape civil war.
Leaders of a rebel opposition group said Jan. 10 they would no longer demand the release of political prisoners as a cease-fire condition – a significant development in the conflict between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka tribe, and those loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar of the ethnic Nuer.
Clashes had spread to at least six of the country’s 10 states and devolved into ethnic conflicts in some regions in the month since the conflict erupted in the two-year-old nation.
More than 1,000 people have died in the fighting and more than 200,000 civilians have fled their homes. The United States has evacuated hundreds of American citizens working in South Sudan and some aid agencies have removed staff and halted operations.
The early stages of peace talks in neighboring Ethiopia brought scant encouragement, but the latest developments could offer hope. President Kiir initially refused demands to release 11 high-profile political prisoners loyal to the opposition, and rebel leaders refused to cease hostilities until the men went free.
Maibor Garang, a member of the opposition (and the son of South Sudan’s deceased first president, John Garang), said the rebels would no longer require the release, stating, “We don’t think it’s fair for our people on the ground to suffer because of the suffering of 11 people.”
It’s still unclear what rebels and former Vice President Machar hope to achieve in the bloody conflict. Though Machar (fired by Kiir last July) denied accusations of planning a coup d’etat, he also called for Kiir to step down in the days after the uprisings. That’s an unlikely scenario in a beleaguered country trying to establish a democratic system.
But while the political dynamics remain unclear, the suffering of civilians remains vivid, with more than 70,000 South Sudanese having sought shelter at U.N. compounds with severely limited resources for masses of people.
Workers at refugee camps that had been full before the crisis erupted, worry they may run out of supplies in a few weeks if prolonged fighting makes supply routes a substantial security risk. U.N. officials also have warned of the danger of disease spreading in camps without enough sanitation and clean water.
Church leaders in South Sudan have entreated warring factions and ordinary citizens to prevent the political strife from turning into ethnic war.
Even as the South Sudan Council of Churches issued a statement calling for peace on Dec. 18, church leaders acknowledged the chaos unfolding in the capital. “Soldiers are asking civilians to identify themselves by tribes,” church leaders wrote. “And we cannot accept to be identified by our tribes, as we are all South Sudanese.”
For hundreds of soldiers and civilians – including at least one pastor – the plea fell short. On Dec. 19, the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch reported South Sudanese soldiers had “fired indiscriminately in highly populated areas and targeted people for their ethnicity during recent fighting in Juba,” the capital city.
In Juba, most reports concerned attacks on Nuer tribal members. In the nearby city of Bor, reports emerged of attacks against the Dinka. According to one radio station, two truckloads of bodies left a military hospital in Juba after family members didn’t come to identify the dead. One Juba resident told the station she saw nine Nuer corpses dumped near a Catholic seminary.
In the Human Rights Watch report, witnesses described soldiers conducting house-to-house searches in Juba and killing Nuer civilians, including women and children. Three independent sources told the organization that soldiers forcibly removed Simon Nyang Lam, a Nuer minister, from his house. “He thought he would be OK because he was a pastor,” a relative told Human Rights Watch. Instead, sources say the soldiers killed him.
It’s a tragic turn for the two-year-old nation that endured decades of brutal civil war before declaring its independence from Sudan in 2011. The Islamic government in the north tried to force Islamic law on the predominantly Christian and animist south for nearly 25 years. Still, Sudan’s Christian population grew dramatically, from about 1.6 million in 1980 to more than 11 million in 2010. Millions of southerners escaped violent attacks by fleeing to neighboring countries. Some spent decades in refugee camps.
A Comprehensive Peace Agreement brought a ceasefire between the north and south in 2005, and southerners began returning to a region resembling a wilderness after years of war and abandonment. In 2011, southerners voted to declare their independence from Sudan and celebrated jubilantly as they became South Sudan – the world’s newest nation.
But the celebration was short-lived. Despite billions of dollars of international aid – including $300 million a year from the United States – the fledgling country stagnated.
Tension continued to build over the summer and fall until fighting broke out between soldiers loyal to both President Kiir and former Vice President Machar in December. After Kiir charged Machar with attempting a coup d’Ètat, Machar denied the charges but called for the president to step down in the days after the violence began. The conflict quickly spread to other states, as it took on ethnic dimensions that threaten to unravel nation’s hard-fought peace.
By New Year’s Eve, both men had agreed to send delegations to hold peace talks in Ethiopia, but Machar hadn’t called for militias to stop advancing on Dinka strongholds.
Meanwhile, the United States sent special envoy Donald Booth to Juba to hold talks with Kiir and other Sudanese officials. Booth also spoke with Machar by phone. U.S. officials joined diplomats, aid groups, church leaders and human rights advocates worldwide pleading with the warring factions to avoid plunging the country into a civil war that threatened millions of vulnerable citizens.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled from reports by Jamie Dean of WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine (www.worldmag.com) based in Asheville, N.C. Used by permission.)
1/15/2014 12:10:55 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Tony Campolo shutters the ministry started 40 years ago

January 15 2014 by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service

Tony Campolo, a progressive evangelical leader who counseled President Bill Clinton through the Monica Lewinsky scandal, announced Tuesday (Jan. 14) that the organization he founded nearly 40 years ago will close on June 30.
Campolo, 78, plans to retire with the closure of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, but he will continue to write and speak, with nearly 200 engagements scheduled for 2014. He said his health is fine and he wants to write one more book on how Christianity fits with the social sciences.

Photo courtesy Tony Campolo
Pictured here, Tony Campolo speaks with guests after the Northminster Baptist Church preaching conference.

By June, Campolo said he anticipates there will be about $300,000 left to distribute to the offshoot ministries started by the larger EAPE. The 22 ministries that were started under EAPE now operate independently and will continue, including Red Letter Christians, where Campolo plans to spend most of his time.
Campolo, who ran for Congress in 1976 as a Democrat, considers himself to be theologically conservative but socially progressive. He is against legalized abortion and gay marriage while being progressive on issues related to poverty, race and American diplomacy.
While not embracing same-sex marriage, Campolo has said the two sides could find a detente if the government would “get out of the business of marrying people and, instead, only give legal status to civil unions.”
He still maintains his counselor relationship to Clinton, speaking with the former president about prayer and Bible study every couple of months. He said he is not in touch with the current Obama administration, despite being invited to an initial gathering of clergy. “To pastor one great leader in America at a time is enough for any person,” he said.
Several evangelical leaders have passed their ministries on to their children, including Billy Graham, Oral Roberts and Jerry Falwell. But Campolo said that wasn’t the case with his son, Bart, who left EAPE in 2011 to start his own urban ministry in Cincinnati.
“My son made it clear to me that he didn’t want to be responsible to carry on the old man’s work. I think I can understand that,” Campolo said. “My son’s theology has drifted to the left when EAPE is definitely evangelical.”
Campolo said he expects to partner more with Shane Claiborne, a Campolo acolyte at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., who is an activist advocating for nonviolence, serving the poor and living simply.
“Too often, we old guys hang on too long and steal the spotlight from the new, bright, shining stars emerging as speakers and leaders,” Campolo said. “We keep occupying leadership without stepping aside and getting behind these speakers.”
Campolo and other progressive evangelicals like Ron Sider and Jim Wallis have taught evangelicals how to speak the language of social justice, said David Swartz, a history professor at Asbury University and author of the book “Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.”
In the 1970s, evangelicals often emphasized personal holiness and salvation, Swartz said. “Campolo’s biggest legacy is to reinsert social holiness into the evangelical imagination,” Swartz said.
Campolo estimates that 95 percent of the giving to EAPE was due to his speaking engagements, a trend that would be difficult to pass down to a successor.
“A lot of these evangelical organizations are built by big gregarious personalities like Tony Campolo’s,” Swartz said. “You can’t really pass down a personality.”
Campolo believes evangelicals have woken up to issues related to social justice. He said the last time he checked, the number of children who die each day due to malnutrition has gone down to 19,000. And more people have access to clean water due to well digging, thanks in part to the work churches have done.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS as a national correspondent in 2013. She has previously served as managing editor of Odyssey Networks and online editor for Christianity Today.)
1/15/2014 12:00:07 PM by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Moore podcast to tackle ethics questions

January 15 2014 by Baptist Press staff

WASHINGTON – The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity has inaugurated a podcast to provide practical assistance on ethical issues.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) debuted “Questions & Ethics” Monday (Jan. 13). The podcast, hosted by ERLC President Russell D. Moore, provides answers to questions from listeners regarding ethics and culture.

Russell D. Moore

In introducing the podcast’s first episode, Moore said many people tend to think ethics is “about really, really complicated sorts of moral questions about human cloning and nuclear war.”
“But for most Christians, the issues that we deal with ethically have to do simply with what it means to follow Christ,” he said. “How do we live as Christians in our workplaces, in our families, around our dinner table, when it comes to choosing our entertainment options?”
In the initial episode, which is about 10 minutes long, Moore responds to the question: “What should I know about a potential spouse’s sexual past?”
The new podcast “allows us to answer the more difficult moral and ethical questions of our day in a short, accessible format,” Dan Darling, the ERLC’s vice president for communications, said in a written release. It permits Moore “to answer a variety of questions people are asking or should be asking,” Darling said.
Marriage, pornography, immigration and pop culture will be among the topics addressed by Moore on the podcast, according to the ERLC.
The podcast, which is available at the ERLC’s website, next will address life issues in preparation for Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, Jan. 19.
Listeners may ask questions on Twitter using #AskRDM or by email at questions@erlc.com. Episodes will be available at erlc.com/questions and on iTunes.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief.)
1/15/2014 11:43:49 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Messengers, BSC staff pray for lost

January 15 2014 by C. Walter Overman, BSC Communications

During the 2013 Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) annual meeting, hundreds of messengers wrote the name of a lost friend or relative inside an outline of North Carolina sketched on a chalkboard.
“Many times, while writing the names, these people would tell us stories,” said Russ Conley, BSC team leader for the Strategic Focus Team. “These names are the names of sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, coworkers and neighbors. These are people who are very important to the person who wrote the name on the board.”

BSC photo
Each name that was written in the chalkboard outline of the state during the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina has been prayed for by one of the staff members of the convention.

The chalkboard, which was located in the annual meeting exhibit hall, was intended to prompt N.C. Baptists to commit to pray for that person’s salvation. About 300 names were written on the board by the end of the two-day meeting.
Messengers were also encouraged to take a magnet from the exhibit hall, write the name on the magnet, and take it home as a reminder to pray for that person.  “We had a number of people take a handful of these magnets back home to their churches and Bible studies to encourage others to pray for their lost friends and relatives,” Conley said.
The Strategic Focus Team consultants, compelled by the personal testimonies, wrote each name on a card and asked BSC staff to adopt five of the names and commit to pray for each one over five days. 
“We want North Carolina Baptists to know that we didn’t take the chalkboard and erase the names,” Conley said. “The messengers took responsibility for praying for those names, and we are joining them in that effort.”
Each name has also been added to the convention’s on-site prayer room, where convention staff will have the opportunity to continue praying for the names in 2014. Conley encouraged all N.C. Baptists to join the messengers and convention staff. 
“We should pray for the lost because we have been commanded to pray for them,” he said. “When we pray for the lost God will give us a burden to share our faith.”
N.C. Baptists can pray for the lost in a number of ways. Conley said churches might consider drawing an outline of the state or their community on a whiteboard or chalkboard, and invite members to write names on the board and commit to praying for them. He said churches can also encourage people to write the names of lost friends and relatives on cards and ask church members to pray for the names for a number of days or weeks.
Conley added that churches will soon be able to purchase the magnets from the convention’s online store. The magnets are an effective way to reinforce the importance of praying for the lost. “Prayer is the most important thing we can do,” Conley said.
Contact Kathy Bennett at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5557, or kbennett@ncbaptist.org.
1/15/2014 11:32:59 AM by C. Walter Overman, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Woman with N.C. ties joins national WMU as consultant

January 15 2014 by Julie Walters, WMU

Clella Lee joined the national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) staff as leadership consultant on the adult resource team on Jan. 6.
In this new role, she will create strategic plans for developing women in the area of leadership including an online leadership training program to further expand WMU’s Christian Women’s Leadership Center (CWLC).
The CWLC is a partnership between WMU and Samford University for the purpose of assisting women of all walks of life in furthering their leadership capabilities. 

WMU photo
Clella Lee

Lee will help guide and grow the CWLC by implementing plans for experiential learning opportunities, more internships for students at WMU, monthly leadership luncheons, and more.
“Clella brings a great depth of knowledge and practical experience to WMU,” said Carol Causey, director of national WMU’s missions resource center. “Her role in leading the CWLC will give her and WMU an ideal platform to assist women in all spheres of life to be servant leaders.
“We are thrilled Clella is joining us.”
Most recently, Lee served on the staff of Lafayette Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., leading in the areas of evangelism and equipping from 2000 to 2008, and music and worship from 2008 until April 2013.
Prior work experience includes serving at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, N.C., as an adjunct professor in 2010 and 2011.
She was also director of admissions and student affairs from 1997 until 2000.
She also has 14 years of experience teaching in elementary schools which will help give context and insight as she helps develop leadership content for all WMU age-level missions organizations.
Lee obtained a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.
She earned a master of divinity with a concentration in Christian education and doctor of ministry from Campbell University.
She and her husband, Brian, who serves as pastor of Shades Crest Baptist Church, reside in Birmingham, Ala. 
1/15/2014 11:25:47 AM by Julie Walters, WMU | with 0 comments

5.3 billion people face harsh religious freedom restrictions

January 14 2014 by Brian Pellot, Religion News Service

LONDON – Global religious hostilities reached a six-year high in 2012 and affected more people than government curbs on religious freedom, according to the Pew Research Center’s latest report on religious restrictions around the world.
The report, released Tuesday (Jan. 14) ahead of National Religious Freedom Day on Thursday, shows that 74 percent of the world’s population experienced high levels of social hostility toward religion, up from 52 percent in 2011.
The sharp rise is due to hostilities in China, which for the first time in the survey’s six-year history, scored a “high” level of religious strife. Home to more than 1.3 billion people, China experienced an increase in religion-related terrorism, mob violence and sectarian conflict in 2012.

Map courtesy of Pew Research Center
“Levels of social hostilities involving religion”

The greatest levels of social hostilities toward religion were felt in Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Somalia, Israel and Iraq, according to the report.
“One of the common things we see in that group of countries is sectarian conflict,” said Brian J. Grim, senior researcher at Pew Research. “In Pakistan, even though minority religious groups like Christians face hostility, there’s also inter-Muslim conflict between Sunnis, Shias and Ahmadi Muslims.”
Global government restrictions on religion remained relatively unchanged between 2011 and 2012, with 64 percent of the world living under harsh legal and political conditions. Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, China, Indonesia, Afghanistan, the Maldives and Syria imposed the strictest government restrictions.
When social hostilities and government restrictions are combined, Pew estimates that 5.3 billion people or 76 percent of the world’s population lived under high religious restrictions in 2012.
Government restrictions include political efforts to ban conversions, limit preaching, or privilege some religious group over others. Social hostilities include armed conflict, terrorism, sectarian violence, harassment, intimidation or abuse motivated by religious factors.
“The Pew report is a chilling reminder that religious freedom is losing ground in much of the world,” said Charles C. Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum in Washington. “The rise in social hostilities toward religion in 2012 is a harbinger of much worse to come.”
Among the world’s most populous countries, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan and Burma had the worst overall restrictions in 2012, while Brazil, the Philippines, Japan, South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo had the fewest.
On the regional level, social hostilities and government restrictions remained highest in the Middle East and North Africa. Libya, Tunisia, Syria and Lebanon saw the greatest rises in regional hostilities in 2012, and experienced violent attacks against religious minorities. Widespread government intimidation of religious groups was reported in 16 of the region’s 20 countries.
On the global scale, Mali, Libya, Mexico, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan experienced some of the greatest increase in hostilities. The social situation improved significantly in only seven countries, including Ethiopia, Cyprus and Cambodia.
“Some of these improvements are associated with peacemaking efforts to solve long-standing conflicts,” Grim said. In Cyprus, a country divided between the predominantly Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south, there were a number of efforts to bridge divides, he added.
The number of countries in the world with “very high” social hostilities toward religion rose from 14 to 20 between 2011 and 2012, with Syria, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand and Burma joining the worst of the worst.
For the first time, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Morocco, Iraq and Kazakhstan joined 19 other countries with “very high” government restrictions. Overall restrictions increased somewhat in 61 percent of countries between 2011 and 2012.
Abuse targeting religious minorities was reported in 47 percent of countries, up from 38 percent in 2011. The report documents intensified violence in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka against Muslims and Christians and in Muslim-majority Egypt against Coptic Orthodox Christians.
Christians were harassed in 110 countries, Muslims in 109 and Jews in 71. Harassment against Hindus, Buddhists, folk religionists and members of other faith traditions also increased by country. Jews faced social harassment in more countries than they faced government harassment. The opposite was true for Sikhs and Baha’is.
Haynes sees a strong connection between governments denying their citizens religious freedom rights and the outbreak of sectarian violence. “Without a renewed commitment to religious freedom, religious differences will deepen and the world will be torn by religious conflict,” he said.
Governments used force against religious groups in nearly half of the world’s countries. Violence or the threat of violence was used in 39 percent of countries to compel people to adhere to religious norms, including in Somalia, where the Islamic militant group al-Shabab continued to ban “un-Islamic” behavior.
Pew documents a rise in the number of countries in which women were harassed for religious dress, mobs turned violent over religious issues and sectarian violence escalated.
In Burma, communal violence led to hundreds of deaths and the displacement of more than 100,000 Rohingya Muslims. Sectarian strife continues to claim lives in Syria and Iraq.
Pew’s latest report covers 198 countries. Notably absent is North Korea, which Pew acknowledges “is among the most repressive in the world with respect to religion as well as other civil and political liberties.” Due to the country’s repressive and closed environment, Pew was unable to obtain sufficient data on North Korea for this study.
(EDITOR'S NOTE - Brian Pellot is director of global strategy and religious freedom editor at RNS. He is based in London.)
1/14/2014 2:38:23 PM by Brian Pellot, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Internet searches led them to choose life

January 14 2014 by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press

GRAPEVINE, Texas – The positive pregnancy test sent Brittany’s life into a tailspin. She had plans – college, career and, potentially, the Miss Pennsylvania pageant.
Her boyfriend Andy, a fellow student at California University of Pennsylvania, had pro football aspirations. The couple considered themselves pro-life but when they were confronted with an unplanned, life-altering pregnancy, all options were on the table.
Their Internet queries ranged from searches for free ultrasounds to abortion clinics.
Tech-savvy businesses wrangle their way to the top, or at least the first page, of those searches. With enough money, for-profit abortion providers and Planned Parenthood can do the same, leaving nonprofit crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) at a disadvantage in getting their message before desperate women.

Photo by Rick Linthicum/Southern Baptist TEXAN
Brian Fisher (left), co-founder of Online For Life (OFL), and Tim Gerwing, OFL vice president of technology, pose for a photo in their Frisco, Texas, office. Drawing on business and technology savvy, OFL has developed cutting-edge online marketing techniques to direct abortion-minded women to CPCs and their life-affirming message.

Brittany and Andy’s Web search gave them options not available just a few years ago.
There among the hits and advertisements for abortion services was an ad for a crisis pregnancy center offering free ultrasounds. The cash-strapped couple made an appointment, and their daughter was saved.
Using its marketing and technology expertise, an organization called Online For Life is turning Internet searches for abortion services into encounters with 50 life-affirming pregnancy centers in 23 states. No longer will Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers be the only results at the top of a page when a person types “abortion clinic” in the Google search bar.
Working from a base in Florida in 2007, pro-life entrepreneur Brian Fisher and his cohorts tested the idea of online marketing for pregnancy centers. One of those clinics was Pregnancy Resource Center of South Hills (PRCSH) just outside Pittsburgh. Five years later, because an Internet search for an abortion clinic also produced a hit for PRCSH, Brittany and Andy sought their help in the fall of 2012.
“It’s a good thing we ended up there,” Brittany told the Southern Baptist TEXAN in a phone interview from her home near Pittsburgh. “There is a chance that saved my baby’s life.”
When she and Andy arrived at the clinic for tests and counseling, Brittany had no idea how far along she was in her pregnancy. The ultrasound revealed she was 17 weeks pregnant. She was stunned. And the ultrasound also revealed more than the age of her baby – it gave her and Andy a perspective that righted their upside-down world.
“There was this little baby with arms and legs kicking. I saw her on the ultrasound. I broke down. Andy was speechless,” Brittany recalled.
She said the staff was kind. They shared their own experiences with abortion and their faith in God and the couple decided abortion was out of the question.
After the visit to PRCSH, Brittany told her family she and Andy were expecting. Her parents were supportive. On his way home from work, after being told of his daughter’s pregnancy, Brittany’s dad bought a stuffed lamb for the baby.
Looking into the face of her daughter Kaylen, born last June, Brittany said she gets physically ill thinking she ever considered an abortion.
One click on an Internet search was the first step in changing their family’s history for good.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)
1/14/2014 12:20:40 PM by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

28 graduate from Fruitland Baptist Bible College

January 14 2014 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

Fruitland Baptist Bible College presented diplomas or certificates to 28 graduates in a historic commencement service December 13 at its Hendersonville campus.
Spirited applause broke out from the several hundred people attending when President David Horton announced that this is the first group of Fruitland graduates who will have “college” on their degrees instead of “institute.”
The school’s name change to Fruitland Baptist Bible College was approved by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) in its annual meeting in November and earlier by the convention’s Board of Directors.
Fruitland is owned and operated by the BSC. It began in Boone, NC and moved to the hills outside Hendersonville in 1946.

BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Fruitland Baptist Bible College graduated its first class as a college in December. The school was previously known as Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute. 

“The day the theological truths of the gospel no longer excite you is the day your ministry is useless,” Scott Thompson told the graduates in his baccalaureate sermon, based on the first two chapters of 1 Samuel. Thompson is Fruitland’s vice president for academic affairs.
Thompson’s sermon was also translated into Spanish by Robert Fernandez, who leads the school’s Spanish teaching program. Ten of the 28 graduates were Hispanic students who received certificates of Christian service.
Fruitland has offered teaching in Spanish for several years and recently has opened four Spanish satellite centers for North Carolina’s growing Hispanic population. Some 200 Hispanic congregations are now affiliated with the BSC, and Hispanic pastors have served on the convention’s board of directors.
Fruitland is seeking accreditation and plans to have two new degree tracks in church planting and apologetics. The name change was part of these new initiatives, which point to a greater role for Fruitland as the school partners with the BSC to impact lostness by leading more churches towards disciple-making.
Approximately 800 Baptist churches in the state are served by Fruitland graduates.
Thompson told of an atheistic gathering in Australia that helps the poor and celebrates life. But emphasizing only the practical is not enough, he said. “If theology is not important, then you have wasted your time,” he told the graduates.
“If there is a unique ministry in this world, it is the Christian church, or should be,” he declared. “The church should show our uniqueness and difference from an atheist church or any other church. I submit to you students [that] you have not wasted your time studying theology, the Word of God and teaching the Word of God.”
Thompson based much of his message on the prayer Hannah prayed after God granted her request to have a child; her first-born son grew up to become Samuel the prophet.
“The church should be rejoicing because of the salvation of the Lord,” Thompson insisted. “The salvation of the Lord is the reason we rejoice.
“The salvation of the Lord is exclusive and unique,” he said, recalling how Hannah said in her prayer that there is none holy like the Lord.
“God is not controlled by anything, ladies and gentlemen. God didn’t evolve. God exists eternally. God sustains Himself. He has no needs. He needs nothing. He exists by His own power. He needs no other power. There is no god like our God,” Thompson said.
“The church of Jesus Christ can rejoice more strongly if we realize that being born again and being saved is something we cannot do,” he said.
“I have been born again. That was God who did that, not Scott. I was saved Feb. 6, 1966. I have not stopped rejoicing since.”         
Thompson also expressed concern for what the graduates might face in the future. “I wonder what lions’ den God may put some of you in,” he said.
1/14/2014 12:05:33 PM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Training ‘anytime, anywhere’ via Ministry Grid

January 14 2014 by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – Pastors know that well-trained lay leaders and volunteers are essential for the health of a local church.
But implementing a training strategy can be difficult, said Todd Adkins, director of leadership at LifeWay Christian Resources.
Enter MinistryGrid.com, a new site for online delivery of easy, affordable and high-quality training.
Ministry Grid features more than 2,000 original, readily accessible video sessions on topics from church leadership and finances to parking ministry and childcare.
The idea behind the site is to give churches a framework for their training programs, Adkins said, noting, “If you don’t give people a framework, they won’t grow.”

LifeWay Resources image

In the past, local congregations sent volunteers to conferences or utilized denominational programs such as Training Union to equip church members for ministry, Adkins said.
“People used to take a week of vacation to attend training events like Sunday School week at Ridgecrest,” he said. “They don’t do that anymore.”
Instead of sending volunteers or staff members to an event, Ministry Grid allows churches to bring the training to their people via computer, smartphone, tablet or other mobile device. There’s also an app for off-line viewing.
“We want to focus on training being available anytime, anywhere,” Adkins said.
However, Ministry Grid doesn’t replace face-to-face training. Instead, the training model is based on the idea of a “flipped classroom” now common in colleges and high schools.
In this case, volunteers and church members learn by watching videos and reading resources on their own time. Then they’ll be better prepared for in-person discussion.
It’s all part of creating a culture where leadership training and personal development are a normal part of church life.
“The church wins when ministry is handed back to the people,” said Eric Geiger, vice president of LifeWay’s church resources division which oversees Ministry Grid as a service to “help churches more intentionally invest in leaders.”
The site is easy to use. Once a church subscribes, church leaders can place volunteers in categories such as greeters, small group leaders, Sunday School teachers or staff members. A training plan can be created for each group.
When members first log in, the site will automatically set up a personalized profile page with links to recommended training resources. From there users can watch videos, read resources and keep track of their progress. It’s as simple as point, click and learn.
A “group at a glance” feature allows pastors and church staff to track members’ progress.
For users, the site is part Facebook, part Netflix and part Discipleship Training. They can have some fun along the way by earning badges similar to Royal Ambassadors patches or Sunday School bars for completing parts of the training process.
Adkins said the badges were inspired by his experience growing up in a Baptist church in Kentucky and going to church training classes on Sunday evenings.
“It’s a combination of old-fashioned accountability and achievement psychology,” Adkins said.
Ministry Grid organizers believe churches of all sizes can benefit from the site’s training options. Church leaders can choose built-in tracks or video sessions, upload their own video content, link to additional articles, turn off unwanted content and even put their church’s name and logo on the site.
In its first month, the new MinistryGrid.com site has drawn nearly 12,000 unique visitors from more than 60 countries.
Videos already on Ministry Grid’s free preview site include Melita Thomas, of LifeWay Kids Ministry, discussing eight approaches to how children learn; Danny Franks, connections pastor at The Summit Church in North Carolina, on the importance of preparing for guests who visit your church; and Mark Marshall, pastor of ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, Tenn., relaying practical tips and information to pastors about the “what” and “how” of baptism.
Among other contributors are Tami Heim, president of the Christian Leadership Alliance; Mac Lake of The Launch Network; Kevin Peck, lead pastor of Austin Stone Community Church; Derwin Gray of Transformation Church; and Aubrey Malphurs, professor of leadership and pastoral ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Malphurs, who serves as an adviser to Ministry Grid, said most congregations don’t do enough to develop leaders and volunteers. He said Ministry Grid’s content and its use of technology are appealing.
“I am the kind of guy who likes to think ahead, in a positive way, about what is coming down the pike, and about what we need to do to develop leaders,” said Malphurs, a member of Lake Pointe Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Rockwall, Texas. “And I think Ministry Grid fits that.”
Ministry Grid also has partnered with congregations like Austin Stone Community Church; Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tenn.; and Sojourn Church in Louisville, Ky.
Subscriptions start at $9.99 per month for individuals and $24.95 a month – or $134.95 per year – for small churches. Subscriptions for larger churches are based on weekly attendance.
“At LifeWay, we’ve made this issue a major priority,” LifeWay President Thom Rainer said. “We see a great opportunity to provide almost unlmited training in this digital age that could not be done in earlier years. We’ve created something that will be convenient for church leaders and those being equipped at an affordable cost for all churches.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bob Smietana is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources. Carol Pipes contributed to this story.)
1/14/2014 11:56:40 AM by Bob Smietana, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bill would protect state marriage policy

January 14 2014 by Matthew Hawkins & Andrew T. Walker, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Federal legislation to protect state authority in crafting state marriage policy has been introduced in Congress by Rep. Randy Weber, R.-Texas.
The proposed legislation would mandate that the federal government recognize marriages based on where a couple resides, not where their wedding was performed or celebrated.
The State Marriage Defense Act of 2014 (H.R. 3829) seeks to clarify state authority in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act last summer.
In the DOMA decision, the Supreme Court addressed the following situation: Edith Windsor was considered “married” to her lesbian partner in her state of residence, New York, and filed taxes accordingly. But the couple's “marriage” was not recognized for tax purposes by the federal government. Edith Windsor sued the federal government on the grounds that the “death tax” on her deceased partner's estate was discriminatory against her as both the heir and spouse, and the court ultimately sided with Windsor.
Weber's bill, filed Jan. 9, would require the federal government to levy taxes based on the marriage law of New York, which happens to recognize same-sex marriage, but not permit federal agencies to presume same-sex marriage upon states where it is not recognized. While striking down section three of DOMA, the Windsor decision did not create a definition of marriage for the federal government.
In the fallout from Windsor, the question of whether the federal government would recognize same-sex marriage was resolved, but the question remains unanswered concerning the federal government's jurisdiction on how it would recognize same-sex marriage and the larger question of state authority in making marriage policy.
In the absence of federal definition, many people believe that a state's definition should be the basis for assigning federal benefits.
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, noted, “Our country and our courts will soon experience a chaotic clash of marriage laws and regulations. At this time, the federal government is not capable of responding to the situation developing in the states. The Weber bill will provide crucial guidance to policymakers and agencies at the federal level as states and concerned citizens attempt to navigate the crumbling landscape of marriage in the country.”
Weber, in a prepared statement on the rationale for his bill, said, “The 10th Amendment was established to protect state sovereignty and individual rights from being seized by the Federal Government. For too long, however, the Federal Government has slowly been eroding state's rights by promulgating rules and regulations through federal agencies.
“I drafted the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014 to help restore the 10th Amendment, affirm the authority of states to define and regulate marriage, as well as provide clarity to federal agencies seeking to determine who qualifies as a spouse for the purpose of federal law. By requiring that the Federal Government defer to the laws of a person's state of legal residence in determining marital status, we can protect states' constitutionally established powers from the arbitrary overreach of unelected bureaucrats.”
Key parts of Weber's bill read:
  • “Congress recognizes that current actions by the Federal Government to afford benefits to certain relationships not recognized as marriages by a person's State of residence go beyond the Supreme Court's ruling in United States v. Windsor. These Federal actions create 'two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State,' in direct contradiction of United States v. Windsor.”
  • “Actions taken by the Federal Government to grant recognition of marital status for persons not recognized as married in their State of domicile undermine a State's legitimate authority to define marriage for its residents.”
  • “... as applied with respect to individuals domiciled in a State or in any other territory or possession of the United States the term 'marriage' shall not include any relationship which that State, territory, or possession does not recognize as a marriage, and the term 'spouse' shall not include an individual who is a party to a relationship that is not recognized as a marriage by that State “
Nearly a decade ago, the ERLC called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. At the time, various policymakers claimed the proposed amendment was unnecessary and contrary to principles of federalism. Today, 18 states have implemented same-sex “marriage” and Weber and the bill's co-sponsors are now forced to rely on the same principles of federalism to defend against the federal government's encroachment into the nature of marriage.
In addition to Weber, eight Southern Baptist are among the 27 original sponsors of the proposed this legislation: James Lankford and Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma, Mike Conaway, Louie Gohmert, Bill Flores and Randy Neugebauer of Texas; Daniel Webster of Florida; and John Fleming of Louisiana.
Weber encourages citizens in other congressional districts who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, as well as citizens who wish to defend the right of their state to define marriage policy, to ask their representatives to join in cosponsoring H.R. 3829, The State Marriage Defense Act. The text of the proposed legislation can be accessed at http://beta.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/3829?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22h.r.+3829%22%5D%7D.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Matthew Hawkins is the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's coalition director; Andrew T. Walker is the ERLC's director of policy studies.)
1/14/2014 11:44:11 AM by Matthew Hawkins & Andrew T. Walker, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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