January 2014

Inerrancy ‘drift’ festers in Christian academia

January 9 2014 by Keith Collier, Baptist Press

FORT WORTH, Texas – Challenges in biblical inerrancy facing Christian colleges and seminaries were aired during the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting in Baltimore.
“The doctrine of Scripture is like a continental divide,” Greg Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s dean of theology, said during a panel discussion.
“Your doctrine of Scripture is not like one doctrine in a basket full of doctrines,” Wills said. “It’s the doctrine that determines which basket full of doctrines you have.”
The panel, hosted by Southwestern Seminary and moderated by Southwestern vice presidents Jason Duesing and Steven Smith, also featured Cedarville University President Thomas White and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Jason Allen. The panel addressed the role of biblical inerrancy in their own institutions as well as trends in higher education.

Photo by Matt Miller/SWBTS
Jason Allen, Greg Wills and Thomas White (left to right) discuss challenges in Christian academia involving biblical inerrancy during a panel discussion at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting.

Cedarville requires all faculty and staff to affirm biblical inerrancy as outlined in the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, with White noting that the Bible “undergirds everything we do.”
“Special revelation, or the doctrine of Scripture, has to have preeminence,” White said during the Nov. 18 session, “so that all of general revelation is judged by the Bible, which is our ultimate foundation. It affects how we do sociology; it affects how we do biology; it affects how we do psychology. If you don’t have that, then you’ll find in certain areas that you creep away from a biblical worldview because you’re not tied to a standard.”
Wills and Allen confirmed that faculty in their institutions also are required to hold to inerrancy based on their seminaries’ guiding documents, which include the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Both recounted their own seminaries’ histories with faculty abandoning inerrancy and the steps that were needed to restore scriptural fidelity.
Allen said the president of the institution is the “lynchpin” in preserving an institution’s adherence to doctrinal convictions.
“In any school, the president is the lynchpin not only in hiring faculty but in maintaining faculty,” Allen said. “The most important decision any board of trustees makes is who they hire as president. The most important decision any president makes is who he puts on the faculty.”
White agreed, saying, “It is my job to enforce the doctrinal standard.”
“I’m thoroughly convinced that most institutions drift toward  liberalism, or at least start that drift, under presidents that are not moderate or liberal in nature,” White said. “They would call themselves conservatives, but they’re just not ‘minding the store.’”
Homosexuality, the panelists agreed, is a growing issue for Christian colleges.
Sexuality is “the driving issue,” Allen said. “Most Baptist colleges and most Christian colleges ostensibly…are seeking their own ‘Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell’ policy. They’re not speaking to it, and they’re trying to please different constituencies with divergent views.”
White agreed, saying, “A college or university that calls itself Christian but is not one is the worst kind of poison.”
“As a Christian university, we must undergird what God has put in place through Scripture, which is the family, the church and the state,” White said. “And so as I undergird the family, I’m going to have to hold to a complementarian position against homosexuality and hold a view of marriage that is biblical.”
The panelists also said that what happens in evangelical higher education –including Christian colleges, universities and seminaries – impacts churches as well as the broader evangelical movement.
“The professors who are writing books, thinking thoughts, engaging culture and engaging new errors have the opportunity to have a tremendous impact upon the entire movement,” Wills said.
When asked about how such strong stances on biblical inerrancy affect the idea of academic freedom in higher education, the panelists said true academic freedom is a false notion.
“It’s not academic freedom in the way it’s advertised,” Wills said. “Academic freedom, as it has developed in the American university system, is one that was designed deliberately for the toleration of leftward views on the faculty of all sorts. Some of those things turned out for good because they were things that needed to be done, but there was a lot of damaging error that came in at the same time. Don’t buy the advertisement that it’s some kind of neutral freedom.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)
1/9/2014 10:29:20 AM by Keith Collier, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Israel expands eligibility for state-funded abortions

January 9 2014 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

JERUSALEM – Israel now has one of the world’s most liberal abortion laws after expanding state-funded abortion to women between ages 20 and 33 for any reason, drawing expressions of sorrow from pro-life, pro-Israel conservatives in the United States.
Previously, the Israeli government would help pay for women of all ages to have abortions in medical emergencies or in cases of sexual abuse, and women under the age of 20 and over the age of 40 could receive abortion funding for personal reasons. 
The new legislation, approved by the Israeli cabinet Jan. 5, means abortion funding now will be available for more than 6,000 additional women.
“We want large families in Israel. We definitely encourage birth,” Jonathan Halevy, head of the committee that drafted the legislation, said, according to The Times of Israel. “But when pregnancy occurs and it is undesired or inadvertent, I think we should supply the means to end the pregnancy properly.”
The nation of Israel, formed in 1948 after the Nazi atrocities against the dignity of life in the Holocaust, is unique as a democracy in the Middle East and is the world’s only Jewish-majority state with strong biblical ties.

Graphic by Laura Erlanson, BP

Sandy Shoshani of Be’ad Chaim, a pro-life organization in Israel, told Baptist Press that, as in other times in Israel’s history, God may be allowing the nation’s depravity to be evident.
“I believe that God has in a sense given us over, and He’s not done with us, but He’s bringing us to a place where He’s saying, ‘Look at yourself. Take a good look and come to Me,’” Shoshani said, referring to Romans 1.
She mentioned that “our moral system has gone so low,” with Israel recently granting to homosexual couples some benefits that previously had been reserved for biblical marriage.
Barrett Duke, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Commission’s vice president for public policy and research, called it a sad day for women and children in Israel.
“Abortion kills a human being created in God’s image, does irreparable harm to women and coarsens a culture’s attitude toward life in general,” Duke told Baptist Press.
“The expansion of abortion law in Israel reminds us just how slick and steep the slope is once a people decide that the unborn have no inherent right to life. We must pray that the people of the Book will find their way back to God’s view of every human life and work to protect the most vulnerable among them,” Duke said.
C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., called the abortion expansion “a tragedy in every way.”
“First, of course, for the unborn children and their mothers,” Mitchell told Baptist Press. “But it’s also very sad for the entire nation. Israel has been wracked by bloodshed for centuries. It seems almost unimaginable that the state would now fund violence in the womb. We must add this to our prayer for the peace of Jerusalem.”
Jim Sibley, adjunct professor of Jewish studies at Criswell College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Israel, of all people, “should hold life in high esteem because of their biblical heritage.”
“This direction that the country is now taking reflects their need for the Messiah and for the prayers of believers around the world,” Sibley told BP.
The pastor of Jerusalem Baptist Church, Al Nucciarone, said the church must continue to support “those in this troubled position of an unwanted pregnancy rather than point them to abortion,” and the church must support crisis pregnancy ministries.
Of utmost importance, Nucciarone said, is the church sharing the Gospel because it can change lives. The church should be praying, Nucciarone said, “for those who are seeking to terminate the life of their unborn child that they would reconsider and be able to deliver a healthy baby.”
Marvin Kramer, a Messianic attorney and general manager of the pro-life organization A Future and A Hope in Haifa, Israel, lamented, “We continue to offer our children to Molech for the sake of sins and conveniences. How can we ask God to bless this land when we are killing our own children?”
By including abortion in the group of medical procedures covered by the government, “the implication is that pregnancy is equivalent to a disease that needs to be treated and eventually eliminated, rather than new life that needs to be protected and nourished,” Kramer wrote in the organization’s Jan. 6 newsletter. “This is a fundamental error in thinking. Given the advancement in medical technology, particularly in ultrasound imaging, it cannot be argued that ‘What we cannot see does not exist.’”
Some health committee members, Kramer added, wanted to accord women secrecy in funding and receiving abortion because “they do not want their husbands to know,” as he put it. “It would seem obvious that ...  will serve as an encouragement to have extra-marital affairs, without the knowledge of the spouse,” he wrote in citing various concerns beyond the killing of the unborn.
Kramer also noted that the new policy “has clear political overtones. The proposal to fund abortions was introduced by the feminist organization ‘Isha L’Isha’” and found resonance among women who comprise half of the health committee’s members.
Halevy, the committee’s leader, also announced an intention of ultimately raising the age to 40, meaning any woman of any age could get a state-funded abortion in Israel for any reason.
The committee opted not to fund birth control, though, because of a lack of funds.
“The private expense for birth control pills is low,” Halevy said, “but when we’re talking about financing for the entire population, that’s a hefty sum.”
Shoshani of Be’ad Chaim said increased abortions mean increased funding for hospitals in Israel. But Israeli hospitals also actively seek private-sector donations and could respond to generous Christians around the world who would contribute funds only on the grounds that the hospitals stop performing abortions.
“If you want to stand with Israel, then pray that we would stop our abortions. Write to our minister of health, write to our hospital directors,” Shoshani said. “I think that’s the way to go because the government doesn’t care at all, but the hospitals are getting money from Christians. They could be pushed.
“If you guys are giving a lot of money to a certain hospital and you say, ‘Would you stop? We’ll give you extra money,’ money talks. Prayer, letters, whatever you can think of to stop abortion,” Shoshani said. “If you really love Israel, you want to stop abortion here, not support it.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston.)
1/9/2014 10:18:14 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Gay marriage in Utah blocked by high court

January 8 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court has finally halted same-sex weddings in Utah after lower courts refused to block the ceremonies while the state challenged their legality.
The high court, amid the festering legal issue in numerous states, issued its temporary stay Monday (Jan. 6) of a federal court ruling that struck down a 2004 Utah constitutional amendment that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman.
Federal judge Robert Shelby – whose Dec. 20 decision made Utah the 18th state with legalized same-sex marriage – had refused the state’s request to block enforcement of his decision while it appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. The 10th Circuit also rejected the state’s application for a stay.
Utah made its request to Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who handles emergency applications from the 10th Circuit. She referred the state’s request to the full court, and the justices announced without comment their order for a stay while the 10th Circuit handles the appeal.
Because Shelby and the appeals court refused to stay his opinion, the unions of the same-sex couples who married during the 17 days his ruling was in effect are in a state of doubt. Nearly 1,000 same-sex weddings were conducted in Utah before the Supreme Court acted, according to The Deseret News, a Salt Lake City newspaper owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).
“This is the uncertainty that we were trying to avoid by asking the District Court for a stay immediately after its decision, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a written statement after the high court’s action. It is very unfortunate that so many Utah citizens have been put into this legal limbo.”
Defenders of biblical, traditional marriage applauded the Supreme Court’s order.
Southern Baptist public policy specialist Barrett Duke told Baptist Press the stay showed the Supreme Court “honored its own ruling” last summer in a high-profile case on same-sex marriage “when it stated that marriage is a matter for the states individually to decide.”
“Regrettably, though, the fate of same-sex marriage in Utah is still going to be debated and decided in federal courts,” said Duke, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s vice president for public policy and research, in a written statement.
Ryan Anderson, the Heritage Foundation’s expert on marriage and religious liberty, wrote in a blog post, “The states remain free – and should continue to remain free – to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Today’s announcement from the Supreme Court is therefore welcome.
“One district judge should not be able to misread the Court’s recent decisions and force any state to act contrary to the meaning and purpose of marriage,” Anderson said.
The country’s leading advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights expressed dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court order but contended its cause would prevail.
“While it is disappointing that the dreams of many more will be put on hold, we know that in the end justice will be served and no couple will be excluded from this cherished institution,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a written statement. He added, “As the marriage equality map expands, history is on our side and we will not rest until where you live is not a barrier to living your dreams.”
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, said in a written release that Utah’s citizens “deserve to have this issue resolved through a fair and complete judicial process. I firmly believe this is a state-rights issue and I will work to defend the position of the people of Utah and our State Constitution.”
Anderson said the debate over marriage should not be settled by judges.
“Whatever one thinks about marriage, the courts shouldn’t be redefining it,” Anderson said. “America should make marriage policy through the democratic process rather than allowing judges to dictate it through decisions that have no grounding in our Constitution.”
Utah voters passed the amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman with about a two-thirds majority.

National battle continues

Same-sex marriage has increasingly made gains in the states. With Shelby’s ruling, nine states legalized gay marriage in 2013. The 18 states that have legalized same-sex marriage are generally located in three sections of the country, plus Hawaii: The Northeast (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont); Midwest (Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota); and West (California, New Mexico, Utah and Washington).
The District of Columbia also has legalized same-sex marriage.
The issue is in the courts in a variety of states, and gay marriage advocates are seeking electoral or legislative victories in others. Through 2016, HRC has targeted Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio and Oregon at the ballot box or in the legislature.
The church has an important role to play as the policy debate regarding marriage continues, the ERLC’s Duke said.
“In the meantime, our church leaders must consider ways they can help their congregations and communities understand the importance of marriage as defined by God,” Duke told BP. “Christians everywhere must also pray fervently for our nation and our leaders who will be making decisions about marriage that will have significant social ramifications.
“Additionally, those committed to the biblical definition of marriage must do all they can to live out biblical values within their own marriages so a skeptical culture can see clearly the great social benefit of God’s design for marriage,” he said.
In his opinion, Shelby ruled Utah’s 2004 amendment violates equal protection and due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. The amendment and two related Utah laws deny the state’s “gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason,” Shelby wrote.
In late June, the Supreme Court refused in an opinion to prohibit states from limiting marriage to a man and a woman. In a procedural ruling on a case from California, the justices effectively let stand a federal judge’s invalidation of a state amendment that defined marriage in the traditional way. In another decision the same day, the high court struck down a portion of a federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, which limited marriage to heterosexual couples.
The case from Utah is Herbert v. Kitchen.
Shelby’s Dec. 20 decision came only a week after Clark Waddoups, another federal judge in Utah, essentially decriminalized polygamy in the state. Waddoups invalidated a portion of a state law that prohibited bigamy, ruling as unconstitutional a section barring a married person from cohabiting with someone who is not his or her spouse.
In effect, Waddoups legalized polygamy as it is practiced in Utah primarily by members of fundamentalist spin-offs of the Mormon religion. Such polygamous households typically do not have multiple marriage licenses but treat all relationships between a man and the women with whom he lives as marriages.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)
1/8/2014 1:10:44 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Minister’s murder arrest, ‘unexpected news’

January 8 2014 by Neisha Fuson, The Alabama Baptist

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After more than five months of near silence, Alabama investigators in the Karen Shahan murder case made a bold move Jan. 1 with the arrest of her husband, Richard Shahan, at the Nashville International Airport.
Until 2006, Shahan served as the associate pastor in education and administration at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. He also taught as an adjunct professor at the M. Christopher White School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C.
Shahan, former children and families pastor at First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., was attempting to board a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, reportedly on his way to work with Bible Mission International (BMI) for three years.

Richard Shahan

The Alabama Baptist and other news sources previously had reported Richard Shahan’s plans for departing the country to develop teaching materials and discipleship resources through BMI to be distributed throughout former Soviet countries.
But on Dec. 31, 2013, the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office had signaled enough recent developments in the case to obtain a murder warrant for Richard Shahan, according to the myfoxal.com news website. Homeland Security ICE agents then arrested Shahan the next day before he boarded his flight, out of a concern that he may try to avoid murder charges by fleeing from Germany to Russia. Officials did not say why they believed he would flee Germany but they did note that there is no formal extradition treaty between the United States and Russia.
Charles T. Carter, interim pastor of the Birmingham church, said Shahan “was not ‘fleeing’ the country. His plans had been known and publicized ever since early November…to provide leadership to BMI’s children’s ministry in Kazakhstan” where he had served on two missions trips while at First Baptist.
On Dec. 29, Carter said the church held a public commissioning and prayer time for Shahan at the conclusion of the morning worship service.
“At my suggestion early on, he received a written statement from his legal counsel that in their opinion he was free to leave/return to the USA,” Carter said. “He was not fleeing; he was en route to assume a new position as a missionary.”
But Police Chief Jim Roberson of the Birmingham-area Homewood municipality said he is confident police have obtained the warrant for the person responsible for the murder.
Details as to why Shahan was arrested at this point in the investigation are limited but Roberson did confirm in a news conference Jan. 2 that investigators had established a motive and have physical evidence.
“It will become readily apparent as we move into the trial process,” Roberson said. “There are very few new details of which we can go into great elaboration because it is an ongoing investigation.”
Shahan’s attorneys Wendell Sheffield and John Lentine said statements about their client’s fleeing the country were misleading.
“Some of the inferences that were put out there in the news conference made it sound like Richard was trying to leave the country and never come back,” Lentine said, according to al.com.
“The chief is saying, ‘We’ve got our man,’ then saying it’s an ongoing investigation. The reality is they’ve always looked at Richard, and they didn’t bother to look any further than that,” Lentine said.
Karen Shahan’s body was discovered last July 23 around 11:15 a.m. inside her home in Homewood. Police still have not confirmed how she was killed although some reports state she was stabbed to death.
Richard Shahan was jailed for investigative purposes on Aug. 7 and released Aug. 9 without being charged.
First Baptist in Birmingham released a statement Jan. 2 that read:
“All of us were saddened by the unexpected news that Richard Shahan was arrested by Homeland Security just moments before his planned flight departure for Frankfurt, Germany. There he was to assume his new role working with the Children’s ministry of Bible Mission International, primarily in Kazakhstan.
“As we know, on November 29 Richard announced his plans to pursue this mission ministry. His resignation from First Baptist Church of Birmingham was effective December 31, 2013.
“Our prayers go out to Richard and his family. We trust that eventually truth and justice can prevail.”
Shahan, who has been held without bond at Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in Nashville, waived his extradition in a hearing today (Jan. 7).
Roberson said he does not have a timeline for Richard Shahan’s return to Alabama but estimates within a week to 10 days. He also emphasized the purpose of the news conference was to reassure Homewood citizens that their neighborhood is “a safe place to live and work” and to bring some closure to the family of Karen Shahan.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Neisha Fuson writes for The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org), newspaper of the Alabama Baptist Convention. The Biblical Recorder staff contributed to this report.)
1/8/2014 12:58:48 PM by Neisha Fuson, The Alabama Baptist | with 0 comments

True Love Project connects sexual purity with worship

January 8 2014 by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE – In July 1994, more than 210,000 cards from teenagers pledging to remain sexually pure were displayed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. In the years that followed, the True Love Waits movement witnessed millions of young people in the U.S. and around the world commit their sexual purity to God. In addition, many who compromised their sexual purity in the past experienced the promise of hope and restoration through Jesus.
Twenty years later, building on the legacy of True Love Waits, the program is being relaunched through a new resource called The True Love Project, a video-driven Bible study for students written by author and speaker Clayton King.

Cover art of the True Love Waits Project resource.

The True Love Project is not simply another Bible study for students on the topic of sex and virginity. Rather, it is a “summons” for the next generation of students to understand their sexuality in light of the Gospel, said Ben Trueblood, director of student ministry at LifeWay Christian Resources, the organization behind TLW.
Trueblood sees sexual purity as an important issue for students today, yet he also believes that alone should not drive the conversation. The core message of True Love Waits has always been that “purity is possible because of Jesus and is for Jesus.”
The True Love Project, released in mid-December, brings that to the forefront. “Jesus is the destination, and our worship of Him needs to take center stage,” Trueblood said.
The refocused message has been inherent in True Love Waits from the beginning, said to Ross, one of the co-founders of the movement two decades ago.
Ross, now a professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Jimmy Hester, a previous director of student ministry at LifeWay, launched the initiative in 1993 based on ideas sketched out on a napkin during a coffee shop meeting.
Since then, an estimated 3 million students around the world have made a True Love Waits pledge. In Uganda, the program was a key factor in lowering the prevalence of HIV/AIDS rates – above 30 percent in some parts of the country – to below 7 percent.
King, a youth evangelist and teaching pastor at NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., aims to build on that legacy. “I was part of the movement when it began,” he said. “I spoke at one of the very first True Love Waits DiscipleNow weekends.”
In the midst of a culture that is sex-saturated, Trueblood added, today’s generation needs “to clearly see how the Gospel impacts their purity and how their choices in purity are about more than their sexual decisions.”
“God has used True Love Waits in an incredible way for two decades,” Trueblood said, “and now He has opened the door for the True Love Waits message to be restated, to once again point people to the gospel through this very important issue in our culture.”
Purity can be a key act of worship, Ross noted. “This is about a lifetime of purity,” he said. “This is not a temporary thing, hoping a husband or wife will show up. Rather, this is something that I can do for my King.”
The new eight-session curriculum captures the gospel-centric focus Ross and Hester implanted in the original and that Trueblood intends to bring back to the forefront.
By beginning lessons in the broader paradigm of the story of the Bible – Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration – Trueblood believes The True Love Project’s lessons will provide the proper perspective for later lessons dealing specifically with sex and purity.
When going through the new True Love Project, Trueblood said churches and student ministers can expect their students “will be challenged to live a pure life in Jesus’ power.”
For King, that means “being found faithful on judgment day, not just refraining from sex.”
While purity has always been at the core of the True Love Waits message, “I want people to know they are pure because Jesus purified them from sin, not because they have perfect behavior and have never had intercourse or looked at porn,” King said. “The good news is that temptation, lust, porn, sex, shame and guilt are no match for the grace Jesus offers us.”
That meshes well with what Ross has said from the beginning. “Point kids to Jesus,” he said. “Only He has power enough to grip their heart and their will.”
Trueblood and King agree. Whether it was on a coffee shop napkin, the National Mall, a village in Uganda or a classroom at a local church, True Love Waits and now the new resource, The True Love Project, has always had one message at its core – only Jesus can make a person pure.
A documentary on the True Love Waits movement by LifeWay Films will be released in early 2014.
For more information, visit TrueLoveWaits.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Earls writes for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)
1/8/2014 12:45:29 PM by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Family finds ‘God’s plan’ in Peru

January 8 2014 by Emily Pearson, Baptist Press

PERU – Brian and Jennifer Pennington knew God was calling them to be missionaries – and that was pretty much the extent of their plan.
So when the couple from Fort Worth, Texas, and their two young sons arrived at International Mission Board’s candidate conference for new missionaries, they didn’t have much to go on.
“We were in Richmond, and everyone there already had their assignment before they got there,” Brian recalled. “We were the only ones there who didn’t know where we were going. Everybody’s researching their people groups, and we’re still trying to figure out, ‘OK, God, where do you want us to work?’”
Brian first felt called to full-time missions in Peru while on a short-term missions trip in the Peruvian jungle, so he felt sure he would be heading back there.

IMB photo by Rebecca Springer 
IMB missionaries Brian and Jennifer Pennington and their sons, Jordan, left, and Trevor serve in Peru. Jordan and Trevor are featured in the 2013 International Missions Study on Peru, published by Woman's Mission Union.

“Our starting point was Peru,” he said. “All I had ever been to was the jungle. But when we found out more about the position, it just wasn’t a good fit for our family. So we looked at the positions that were left.”
The only other position available in Peru was a church-planting position in the Andes Mountains.
“We weren’t thinking mountains,” Brian said. “But God showed us Isaiah 52:7, which says, ‘How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news.’”
With a long-term plan in place, the Penningtons moved to San Jose, Costa Rica, for a year of language training. But the curveballs didn’t stop.
“We thought we were going to Huaraz, a city of 50,000,” Brian said. “And we’re from a city.... We thought, ‘Well, we can do 50,000 people. That’s still city-ish.’
Just one week before moving from Costa Rica to Peru, the Penningtons were surprised again. Their future supervisor, who had originally written the job request, lived in Huaraz. But the Penningtons would actually be working three hours outside the city in a rural town of less than 3,000. They also were told they would be changing supervisors.
Although nothing seemed to be going according to plan, the Penningtons still felt confident in their call. Not knowing what to expect, they switched gears and moved to the tiny mountain town of Chavin de Huantar. They were ready to be Christ’s heart, hands and voice to the people of the Peruvian Andes.
Two weeks after arriving in Chavin, they met Patricia de Loarte, a Chavin native who had been living in the Peruvian capital of Lima. Patricia, a Baptist believer, had recently moved back to Chavin and had been looking for a church.
“We had been praying to find somebody to start an outreach group with,” Jennifer said. “And she had just moved into town and had been praying for a community of Baptist believers. To her, we were an answer to prayer. And it was an answer to prayer for us because here was someone that God had placed in our path who said, ‘Come to my house. I want to start a Bible study group.’”
“God knew exactly what we needed, and exactly what Patricia needed, and He just put us together,” Brian said.
With Patricia’s help, the Penningtons began a small Bible study where Peruvian believers study Scripture and learn to share the Gospel with others in their community.
“The presence of [the Pennington family] is something that attracts attention of the people here, because they are foreigners,” Patricia said. “It is a blessing to have brothers here where we live, to be able to talk with them, to discuss the Word. The people here accept them, but they are curious as to why they are here. When we go out with them to small communities everyone exclaims, ‘Gringos! Look, gringos!’”
As the group grew, Brian began teaching oral Bible storying as a way of sharing the gospel with those who can’t read. Many Peruvians living in rural areas outside Chavin only speak Quechua – a difficult, indigenous language. Teaching bilingual believers in Chavin to tell Bible stories helps spread the gospel to other Peruvian villages where Quechua would be a major obstacle for most North American missionaries.
Patricia, a passionate evangelist and promoter of Bible storying, has also invited members of her former church in Lima to make missions trips to villages around Chavin. She encourages them to use storying as a primary method of evangelism.
“My prayer request is to reach the whole community,” she said. “I offer this community to the Lord, so that we can see souls come to the Lord and know the Word, and meet with us.
“I think she realizes storying is a way she can tell others,” Jennifer said. “She sees this can be beneficial to so many people.”
Despite the initial challenges and uncertainties, the couple believes that moving to Chavin and meeting Patricia was part of God’s larger plan for reaching the lost in the Peruvian mountains. The Penningtons’ involvement in that plan was made possible by Southern Baptists’ support through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Cooperative Program.
“In the end, we definitely could see that it was God’s plan all along,” Jennifer said of their ministry in Chavin. “Maybe we wouldn’t have picked that job request if we had known it was a city of only 3,000 people. But that was the way that God got us there.”
“Nothing actually turned out like it was supposed to be,” Brian said, “but we’ve always taken comfort in the fact that God knew the whole time how it was going to be. It wasn’t a surprise to Him, and we learned to trust Him in that.”
UPDATE: Recently, God surprised the Penningtons once again. After three-and-a-half years of service in Chavin de Huantar, they felt the Lord leading them to a new missions assignment. Working with local Peruvian believers and U.S. “partner” churches, the couple now helps with training, logistical support and strategy in an effort to plant churches in more than 100 communities across Peru.
In other Pennington family news, missionary kids Jordan and Trevor Pennington are featured in the 2013 International Mission Study on Peru, published by Woman’s Mission Union. To learn more about the study, go to wmu.com/peru.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – The Penningtons are serving in Peru through Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Cooperative Program, which fund the presence and missions outreach of nearly 5,000 Southern Baptist missionaries internationally. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at imb.org/offering. (*Name changed). Emily Pearson served as an IMB writer in the Americas.)
1/8/2014 12:29:33 PM by Emily Pearson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

CP gives small church global impact

January 7 2014 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

CLEARWATER, Idaho – First Baptist Church of Clearwater only draws about 40 worshippers Sunday mornings, but makes a global missions impact through the Cooperative Program.
Bill Horn, bivocational pastor of the Idaho church, extols the Cooperative Program as unique.
“There’s nothing out there like it. The Cooperative Program takes a rural church like us that doesn’t have a large budget or mission teams we can send, but we can send our money and see evangelism done around the world through us,” Horn said. “That makes us missionaries too. Whether we’re giving our money or helping people in the community, when we realize we’re missionaries, we are more serious about being one.”
About 10 years ago First Baptist increased from 19 percent to 21 percent its contribution to the CP, Southern Baptists’ mechanism to support the missions and ministries of state conventions and the International Missions Board.

Bill Horn, pastor of First Baptist Church of Clearwater, Idaho, baptizes a new believer in a fishpond Horn describes as 30 inches deep.

“We actually had a business meeting where we were looking at reducing it,” Horn said. “At the end, the folks decided rather than back up, they decided to see whether or not it would work to give more.
“I’m not saying He’s blessed us because we gave,” Horn said. “I’m just saying God’s blessed us.”
Perhaps 3,000 people live in the rural area First Baptist serves, sitting at the edge of the Nez Perce National Forest. In part because of Horn’s long tenure, the church is a blessing to its rural home, hosting weddings and funerals, assisting families after house fires and other personal tragedies, cleaning chimneys, giving people rides or picking up items at the nearest Walmart some 110 miles away on the Washington border.
“They look to us as their pastor even though they’ve never darkened the door of the church,” Horn said. “It’s an opportunity to see how God works in the rural setting. It’s kind of a typical thing for the number of people who should be there, but aren’t.”
“People can get discouraged, but for us, we are where we are, and it is what it is.”
Horn strives to present Scripture in a way the congregation can understand and relate to. After a 35-year career at a sawmill, Horn butchers cows and pigs and does carpentry. Twice a month, he works with the prison ministry of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Cottonwood, Idaho, about 40 miles west of Clearwater.
The work keeps Horn in touch with the community.
“Our biggest opportunities are still to keep reaching out to people – the young ones and the old ones,” Horn said. “We don’t have a praise band or musical instruments on stage, so there are people going to other places if they’re looking for entertainment.”
The church tends to draw the middle-aged and elderly who perhaps aren’t as energetic as they once were, Horn said, but mission outreaches remains important.
“Every opportunity we can, we have missionaries come in to tell what they do, and we just had a missions fair” in conjunction with Whispering Pines Baptist Association, Horn said, with which the church affiliates. “The church has always been involved in missions. Though sometimes they look at it  like it might be over what they’re able to do, God has never let them down.”
In 2006, First Baptist expanded its aging 26-by-50-foot building, demolishing part of its “L” shape and adding to the main structure. Today, the church is 44 by 50 feet, handicap-accessible, and has a 12-by-12 foyer and bell tower.
The construction project provided “day care” space for two developmentally delayed sisters, 79 and 80, and their health-care providers, and to ease the strain on relatives with whom the sisters live.
“It gives them a place they’re able to go to, no matter the weather,” Horn said. “It’s something God has been in, and He’s blessed it.”
The project led to an increased awareness of the needs of seniors in the area, and recently money was given to start a senior lunch program.
Other churches have exhibited the Southern Baptist cooperative spirit by helping First Baptist Clearwater, Horn said. A missions team from First Baptist Church in Powell, Tenn., built a new roof, Mountain View Baptist Church in Johnson City, Tenn., helped with Vacation Bible School, dry wall installation and painting, as did churches in the Whispering Pines Baptist Association.
First Baptist supports the Lottie Moon Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Offering for North American Missions, and an individual missionary in Eastern Europe through a relationship began in the 1950s.
In 2013, First Baptist gave an offering to help print 11,000 copies of the New Testament in Turkish. Also last year, the church doubled to $100 its monthly contribution to a national pastor in Turkey who distributes the New Testaments.
“They’re going through a lot of persecution,” Horn said. “We don’t have a lot of folks, but we’re debt-free and we give what we can.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.)
1/7/2014 10:26:39 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

In Thailand, US evangelicals work to end prostitution

January 7 2014 by Ruxandra Guidi, Religion News Service

BANGKOK – A small delicate silver cross hangs around Mint’s neck, a charm she reaches for nervously from time to time as she speaks.
Mint is her nickname, an Anglicized version of the long Thai name she was given and would rather not make public. As a former prostitute, the 24-year-old is concerned about bringing shame to her family, though she says everyone in her village in the northeastern province of Issan  –  a poor agricultural region along the border with Cambodia and Laos – would assume, or simply know, she had to be doing sex work to send money back home.
Everyone in Bangkok knows how it works. Many of the countless massage parlors, go-go bars, and karaoke joints peppered throughout the city are frequently thinly veiled fronts for prostitution. Heavily made-up girls hang around in the periphery of joints catering to Western tourists. Most of the Asian customers, including Thai men, head to brothels and bars elsewhere, away from the sex tourism districts.
Sex work is such big business in Thailand that the International Labor Organization estimates, conservatively, that it generates 7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. An ILO report from the late 1990s says sex workers sent home $300 million a year to rural areas, “more than any government development project.”
Not all sex work is done willingly, and some would argue that prostitution is by its very nature exploitative, as well as a driving factor for human trafficking – the sale, transport and profit from human beings who are forced to work for others, often referred to as the modern equivalent of slavery.

RNS Photo courtesy by Bear Guerra
Mint, a former sex worker, now makes jewelry that helps support the work of NightLight International.

Thailand is struggling to curb trafficking amid international pressure and dozens of American groups, many of them evangelical, have entered the country in recent years to fight the issue, with the blessing of U.S. foreign policy.
Yet Mint resists the conflation of sex work with trafficking. She now has a steady job with NightLight International, the anti-trafficking organization that got her off the streets.
“I wasn’t tricked into this – not into prostitution, nor into a Christian life,” Mint says. “I entered sex work by choice, but that doesn’t mean it was an easy choice.”

Evangelicals step in

The motto for NightLight International is emblazoned on its website: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2).
And the oppressed, as far as Nightlight founder Annie Dieselberg is concerned, are women exploited by the sex industry, along with children, or at high risk for such exploitation, she says.
Dieselberg founded NightLight in 2005 after almost a decade of missionary work in Thailand with her husband, a pastor who had been assigned to an evangelical church in Bangkok. What Dieselberg enjoys doing most, she says, is rescuing women. She roams the streets at night, searching for those who may need a way out of prostitution – the “survivors,” as she calls them.
Mint came by way of a friend of Dieselberg’s. A fellow evangelical found her working a corner many nights and referred her to NightLight. Some women arrive there after one-on-one conversations on the streets; other organizations, including the police, fight sex trafficking by storming brothels in search of underage sex workers.
NightLight employs 50 women, paying them around $250 a month to make crafts and jewelry. The salaries are above Thailand’s minimum wage, and the organization provides medical insurance and a savings plan, as well as a small child care center.
Most of the women at NightLight’s four-story building, just blocks from Bangkok’s infamous Nana Plaza sex district, are younger than 30, and come from Thailand, Burma and Laos.
Mint comes here to work on a part-time basis assembling jewelry. She has found a community here, a sense of belonging she didn’t have before.
“Now I can do good work that will not hurt my body,” she says. “I don’t have to fight all the time.”
This goal of individual human dignity is what drives so many U.S. evangelicals to fight sex trafficking, said Brie Loskota, managing director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California.
“It is a moving idea, for just about anyone, but particularly in the evangelical world,” she explains. “The fact that they come together in a way that is non-shaming for the victims, is a remarkable testament for how evangelicals are being smart in this movement.”

Combating sex trafficking

More than a decade ago, the U.S. Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act established a set of legal tools to combat trafficking nationwide and around the world.
To help Thailand, the U.S. government awarded almost $12 million in funding to nongovernmental organizations in East Asia that run anti-trafficking programs in 2010; about one-sixth of that went to faith-based organizations.
”We work closely with many of them, and they give us tips on who the trafficking victims are and where they might be,” said Saowanee Khomepatr, director of Thailand’s Bureau of Anti-trafficking in Women and Children, part of the Ministry of Social Development.
But this summer, the latest U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report found the Thai government was not fully complying with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.
That means possible U.S. trade sanctions if the Thai government can’t prove by the end of 2014 that more trafficking victims are being helped, or that more traffickers are ending up behind bars.
But not everyone agrees that sex trafficking is the highest priority. Some critics argue that in an effort to fight trafficking, the U.S. is clamping down on prostitution worldwide while overlooking other kinds of human trafficking.
“There are other places to focus on, like children, or people who are exploited in the factories who cannot leave, or the fishing boats,” said criminologist Sam Derbali, a Belgian researcher at Mahidol University in Bangkok. “There are thousands of fishing boats in Thailand, and nobody knows what happens there.”
According to the ILO, an estimated 75 percent of people trafficked around the world at any point in time do not end up as sex workers, but in fishing, farming, domestic work, or construction industries.

Alternative solutions

Rescuing sex workers, it turns out, is difficult and often unsuccessful. One alternative can be found in the northern city of Chiang Mai.
The Can Do bar, located on Chiang Mai’s sex district strip, looks like an old punk rock joint: It isn’t very clean, and the walls are covered with graffiti.
But workers here are paid at or above the Thai minimum wage, and receive training on a range of skills, from how to practice safe sex, to tips on how to manage difficult or violent situations that may arise.
Mai, a 28-year-old woman from Burma, is a sex worker affiliated with Can Do. Without makeup, and dressed in a simple black T-shirt and jeans, she looks nothing like the young women roaming Bangkok’s sex tourism districts. Before landing here, she had worked as a maid, dishwasher, baker, farmer, and street food vendor. And, she claims, she is in sex work for the long haul.
“Each job has its good points and its bad points, but when I came to do sex work, I realized this is a job that gives me enough income to really look after my family,” says Mai.
She insists no one forced her to do this: “My friends were the ones that told me about the money to be made in sex work.”
One of those friends, Mai says, was picked up in a police raid at a Chiang Mai brothel a couple of years ago. She has since gone right back into prostitution.
But while the Can Do bar tries to treat sex workers fairly and gives them part ownership of the business, NightLight’s Dieselberg is convinced most women would rather quit prostitution if they are offered a decent-paying alternative.
“We usually have a waiting list of women wanting to come work at NightLight,” Dieselberg says. And that tells her women aren’t so eager to sell their bodies on the streets.
According to NightLight, 160 Thai women and 45 women from other countries have come through the organization since its founding in 2005. There’s no way to know if any of these women have gone back to prostitution.
“We could do much more but the financial and human resources needed are so high and we are limited in how much we can help,” she says.
Mint, for one, is grateful for NightLight’s help and has no desire to go back on the streets.
“There may be some women out there who say they feel fulfilled when they find a foreign boyfriend or a man who gives them money for sex,” says Mint. “But we don’t really know their full story, like what they had to endure, what they’ve been through.”
For two years, she has been making jewelry and crafts at NightLight and during that time, she says, she has developed new skills that will keep her from having to earn a living as a prostitute.
Someday, when she has enough savings and business know-how, she plans on starting her own crafts store in Bangkok.
1/7/2014 9:57:17 AM by Ruxandra Guidi, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

CP at 91.55% of budget

January 6 2014 by Baptist Press staff

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Year-to-date contributions to Southern Baptist national and international missions and ministries received by the SBC Executive Committee are $43,829,795.61 or 91.55 percent of the year-to-date SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget goal. They are 2.64 percent below contributions received during the same time frame last year, according to a news release from SBC Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Frank S. Page.
The year-to-date total represents money received by the Executive Committee by the close of the last business day of December and includes receipts from state conventions, churches and individuals for distribution, according to the 2013-14 SBC Cooperative Program Allocation Budget.
The $43,829,795.61 received by the Executive Committee from October 1 through December 31 for distribution through the Cooperative Program Allocation Budget represents 91.55 percent of the $47,875,000 year-to-date budgeted amount to support Southern Baptist ministries globally and across North America. The total is $1,189,963.32 or 2.64 percent less than the $45,019,758.93 received through the end of December 2012.
Designated giving of $11,039,662.26 for the same year-to-date period is 1.37 percent, or $153,441.89, below the $11,193,104.15 received at this point last year. This total includes only those gifts received and distributed by the Executive Committee and does not reflect designated gifts contributed directly to SBC entities. Designated contributions include the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, Southern Baptist Global Hunger Relief (formerly the World Hunger Fund) and other special gifts.
December’s CP allocation receipts for SBC work totaled $13,779,542.21. Designated gifts received last month amounted to $4,132,016.32.
The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ channel of giving through which a local church is able to contribute to the ministries of its state convention and to the missions and ministries of the Southern Baptist Convention with a single contribution to its state convention.
State conventions retain a portion of church contributions to the Cooperative Program to support work in their respective states and forward a percentage to Southern Baptist national and international causes. The percentage of distribution from the states is at the discretion of the messengers of each state convention through the adoption of the state convention’s annual budget.
The SBC allocation budget is distributed as follows: 50.4 percent to support more than 4,800 overseas personnel with the IMB, 22.79 percent to help fuel North American evangelism and church planting through NAMB, 22.16 percent to help underwrite low-cost ministerial preparation and theological education through six SBC seminaries, 2.99 percent to the SBC operating budget and 1.65 percent to promote biblical morality and religious freedom through the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Month-to-month swings reflect a number of factors, including the number of Sundays in a given month, the day of the month churches forward their CP contributions to their state conventions, the percentage of CP contributions forwarded to the SBC by the state conventions after shared ministry expenses are deducted and the timing of when the state conventions forward the national portion of Cooperative Program contributions to the Executive Committee.
CP allocation budget receipts received by the Executive Committee are reported monthly to the executives of the entities of the convention, to the state convention offices, to the state Baptist papers and are posted online at www.cpmissions.net/CPReports.
1/6/2014 11:41:36 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

DOJ opposes stay of nuns’ mandate request

January 6 2014 by By Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice has urged a U.S. Supreme Court justice to reject a request by Roman Catholic nuns for the continuation of an injunction blocking enforcement of the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate.
The memorandum filed Friday (Jan. 3) with Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor came in response to her Dec. 31 order granting a temporary injunction to the Little Sisters of the Poor in Denver and other Catholic organizations. Upon issuing the injunction, Sotomayor gave the Department of Justice (DOJ) until Jan. 3 to respond. DOJ also encouraged the Supreme Court not to grant review in the case.
The high level legal dispute results from a rule requiring employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including ones that can cause early abortions, or face potentially massive penalties. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) included the mandate among the regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care law.
In the administration’s reply, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said the nuns do not need an injunction because they are eligible for an accommodation under the controversial mandate that exempts them from providing for contraceptive coverage.
“They need only self-certify that they are non-profit organizations that hold themselves out as religious and have religious objections to providing coverage for contraceptive services, and then provide a copy of their self-certification to the third-party administrator of their self-insured group health plan,” Verrilli told Sotomayor.
Many of those who oppose the abortion/contraception mandate, however, have long contended the accommodation does not resolve their religious objections.
Employers who object will be unwilling participants in underwriting contraceptive and abortion-causing drugs, they say. Under the accommodation, employers will have to be affiliated with an insurance plan connected to coverage of such pills and might absorb increased costs from insurers for the drugs.
A lawyer for the nuns said the Obama administration “has started the new year the same way that it ended the old one: trying to bully nuns into violating their religious beliefs.”
“The government demands that the Little Sisters of the Poor sign a permission slip for abortion drugs and contraceptives, or pay ... millions in fines,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in a statement after DOJ filed its response. “The Sisters believe that doing that violates their faith, and that they shouldn’t be forced to divert funds from the poor elderly and dying people they’ve devoted their lives to serve.
“The government now asks the Supreme Court to believe that the very thing it is forcing the nuns to do – signing the permission slip – is a meaningless act,” he said. “But why on earth would the government be fighting the Little Sisters all the way to the Supreme Court if it did not think its own form had any effect? The government’s brief offers no explanation for its surprising insistence on making the Little Sisters sign a form the government now says is meaningless.”
The abortion/contraception mandate requires coverage of such drugs as Plan B and other “morning-after” pills that possess a post-fertilization mechanism that can cause an abortion by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.
Churches and closely affiliated auxiliaries are exempt from the mandate, but many Christian ministries and institutions are not.
Sotomayor issued the temporary injunction as the justice who handles emergency applications from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Her stay came a day before the mandate was to go into effect for the Catholic organizations.
Her order brought to 19 the number of injunctions granted to non-profit groups that have challenged the mandate in court, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. An injunction has been denied in only one suit brought by a non-profit.
Sotomayor’s order followed by only four days a victory in a Houston federal court for two Baptist universities. East Texas Baptist University and Houston Baptist University won a Dec. 27 injunction against the mandate.  A week earlier, GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention won an injunction against the regulation.
Two HHS mandate cases involving for-profit plaintiffs – Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties – are set to be argued before the Supreme Court this term, possibly in March.
For-profit and non-profit corporations have filed a total of 91 lawsuits against the mandate, according to the Becket Fund.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has signed onto friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood and others challenging the mandate.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief. Erin Roach, Baptist Press assistant editor, contributed to this story.)
1/6/2014 11:35:06 AM by By Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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