January 2015

Plano petition drive succeeds, Houston awaits day in court

January 22 2015 by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press

Plano Citizens United, a coalition of churches and civic leaders, cleared the first hurdle this week in rescinding a city ordinance that legal experts said would stymie free speech and religious liberty, while opponents of a similar ordinance in Houston prepare to take their fight to court.
With no preexisting ministerial alliance in place, Plano churches were caught unprepared when the city council, led by Mayor Harry LaRosilier, passed an ordinance Dec. 8 creating a protected class of citizen based on sexual orientation and gender identity. With help from the Houston pastors’ coalition, opposition to the ordinance was hastily organized and a successful petition drive launched.
In order to force the repeal process, the coalition needed signatures of 3,822 registered Plano voters. The volunteer group verified more than 4,000 signatures before submitting nearly 7,000 to the city secretary Jan. 20.
“The mayor has been adamant,” Mike Buster, executive pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, said. “He will not discuss this with anyone. The citizens of Plano said we will discuss it. We will vote on it.”
The ordinance, like Houston’s and scores of others passed in cities across the nation, is championed by the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization calling for civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The ordinances are beginning to meet opposition as they are brought to light.
Plano is home to the Liberty Institute, a religious liberty advocacy organization. Their attorneys joined the Citizens United legal battle and stated in a press release, “Government officials have demanded that family businesses and employees be punished for simply trying to exercise their faith beyond the four walls of their church or in their homes.”
Opponents of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), passed last May, are taking their battle to court next week. Barring any delay by Houston’s legal team of city and pro bono attorneys, jury selection should begin Monday, Jan. 26.
The No Unequal Rights Coalition, led by a racially diverse group of Houston pastors, gathered 50,000 signatures on a petition to force the ordinance’s repeal. Following verification by City Secretary Anna Russell, City Attorney David Feldman disqualified thousands of pages of signatures, effectively defeating the recall effort.
The coalition filed a lawsuit against the City of Houston, Feldman and Mayor Annise Parker demanding they recognize the signatures and present the petition to City Council as required by law. A jury will determine if Feldman and Parker acted outside their authority in squelching the referendum.
No such interference has come from Plano city administrators, said Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastors Council, which led opposition to HERO and helped coordinate the Plano referendum effort. However, he said, hostility from the LGBT advocates was swift.
“It just got ugly real fast. It was very enlightening,” Welch said.
Welch said coalition headquarters received antagonistic phone calls and business owners opposed to the ordinance were threatened with demonstrations outside their businesses.
Buster said, “We have to state, always up front, we love all people. And this is an issue of religious liberty.”
Mark Reid, a Plano Citizens United volunteer and small business owner, told The TEXAN arguing against “anti-gay” and “bigot” labels is futile.
“The issue is not about hating anyone. I don’t fight it on that basis,” Reid said.
Instead he demands protection of his First Amendment rights. As an employer whose crews work in schools and churches, he can admonish employees for inappropriate behavior. But with the Plano ordinance in full force, Reid said his speech – grounded in his Christian convictions – could be deemed in violation of city code.
“That’s not equal rights. That’s special rights, and that’s wrong,” Reid said.
If the Plano signatures are certified, the city council must repeal the equal rights ordinance or put it on the ballot in the next general election in May.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN [www.texanonline.net], newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

1/22/2015 3:59:07 PM by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

$500,000 grant launches Midwestern’s 5-year degree

January 22 2015 by T. Patrick Hudson, Baptist Press

A $500,000 grant will help Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and College launch a new program enabling students to earn a bachelor’s degree and master of divinity degree within five years.
The Kern Family Foundation is providing the grant for Midwestern’s new “Accelerate” five-year bachelor and master of divinity program.
Midwestern President Jason Allen voiced gratitude to the foundation “for such generosity in assisting Midwestern College to provide an avenue for its students to graduate with high-level theological education in a significantly reduced amount of time and cost.”
“The legwork for this grant was accomplished by John Mark Yeats, our undergraduate dean,” Allen added. “Dr. Yeats’ work in obtaining this grant … has enabled us to offer the Accelerate program to students much sooner than originally anticipated.”
The Wisconsin-based Kern Family Foundation, according to its website, has “a deep appreciation for excellent pastoral leadership, believing that healthy local churches led by capable, committed pastors can transform the moral fabric of our society.”
Yeats noted that the Kern family has expressed concerns about the time it takes for a pastor to receive training – typically four years for an undergraduate degree and three to four more years for a master of divinity – which can mire ministerial candidates in debt and keep them from serving effectively once in the field.
“Accelerate helps decidedly motivated students to engage their studies in an aggressive manner,” Yeats said of the five-year educational experience that results in bachelor of arts and master of divinity degrees upon completion.
“Students are required to take approximately 15 credit hours per semester and to complete some coursework during the summer,” Yeats said. “Students follow a highly structured course of study that includes a weekly cohort meeting. By the third year, students are taking select master of divinity courses along with their higher-level undergraduate courses.”
Other benefits for Accelerate students, Yeats said, include significant financial savings “because of the condensed program format – allowing them to jump more quickly into front-line ministries like church planting and missions,” as well as opportunities for learning “not just in the classroom, but by working with others in an intentional cohort that better grounds them for ministry.”
The program is residential, with all coursework taking place on Midwestern College’s Kansas City campus.
Yeats said Accelerate will involve a four-pronged approach:
– Communal learning: Accelerate’s cohort structure, which fits best-practice models throughout higher education for engaging students, aids in retention, provides encouragement and strengthens the learning process, Yeats said.
“Ultimately, it whets the student’s appetite for lifelong ministry and learning, supported in later years by communities of similar ethos,” Yeats said. “A minister who refuses to minister alone is a minister who is built to last.”
– Leadership focus: The Accelerate program’s cohorts and academic classes are designed to continually emphasize the necessary skills for each graduate to enter their ministry field as a high-capacity leader, Yeats said. Assessment structures, practicums and regular courses contribute to the cohort structure, reinforcing leadership ideas that help each student become better suited to the 21st-century church.
– Discipline: “The academic rigor of Accelerate will challenge students to develop capacities of self-discipline that are essential to short- and long-term ministry success,” Yeats said. “To a certain extent, and by design, the proposed structure replicates the pressures of actual ministry.”
If Accelerate’s students learn to manage reading loads, class projects, ministry obligations and community responsibilities effectively, Yeats said, they will be more apt to maintain healthy balances in their future ministries.
Experience: The environment sustained within Accelerate equips students with an essential package of theoretical knowledge but also engages students in firsthand ministry.
“In their final year of study, students will be well-engaged in the apprenticeship phases of ministry service,” Yeats said. “Especially for students who struggle with practical engagement, the required practicums in the fifth year create and require new opportunities for ministry.”
Students applying to the program directly from high school must possess a 3.0 GPA or higher and provide strong letters of recommendation. The program also is open to current Midwestern College students who have not yet earned 40 credits in order to integrate smoothly into the program.
“If you are a young person called to ministry, we invite you to join what God is doing at Midwestern Seminary [to] … grow in your faith and be anchored in the truth of God’s Word,” Allen said.
“Accelerate allows us to do this on a more advanced level that places you into unique and dynamic contexts and that trains you to be a leader of tomorrow, today.”
Applications for the Accelerate program, which will launch in the fall of 2015, are currently being accepted for the limited space available.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: T. Patrick Hudson is executive assistant to the president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)

1/22/2015 3:49:24 PM by T. Patrick Hudson, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Obama threatens vetoes in State of the Union speech

January 22 2015 by Baptist Press staff

President Barack Obama promised during his State of the Union speech Tuesday (Jan. 20) to veto any effort by the new Republican Congress to roll back health-care reform or his immigration orders.
In his sixth State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress and a national television audience, Obama focused much of his early attention on “middle-class economics” but addressed a litany of issues during the 61-minute speech. In response, some conservative lawmakers and other leaders indicated his economic proposals actually will harm families.
For the first time in his now six-year presidency, Obama is faced with a Senate and House of Representatives controlled by Republicans. The GOP gained the majority in the Senate in the November election.
The president told Americans, “We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got to fix a broken system. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, I will veto it. It will have earned my veto.”
Speaker of the House John Boehner has already said his chamber will vote again this year to repeal the health-care reform law. The House has voted at least a half-dozen times for repeal since it was enacted in 2010.
Among concerns raised by pro-life advocates and other Americans about the health-care law and its regulations are the measure’s taxpayer funding of abortion and the abortion/contraception mandate, which requires employers to provide for their workers not only contraceptives but drugs and devices that can potentially cause abortions.
On immigration reform, Obama issued executive orders in November that protect an estimated five million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The president acted after contending for years he did not have the legal authority to make or ignore immigration law. He issued the orders, Obama said, after a comprehensive reform bill approved by the Democratic-controlled Senate in 2013 failed to gain a vote in the Republican-led House.
Even some backers of immigration reform expressed opposition to his actions. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called it an “unwise and counterproductive move.” Moore has asked the president more than once not to make immigration reform a “red state/blue state issue.”
Americans widely agree their immigration system is badly damaged. The system and its enforcement have resulted in an estimated 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants living illegally in the United States.
In his State of the Union speech, Obama acknowledged “passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student and agree that no one benefits when a hard-working mom is snatched from her child, and that it’s possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.”
“Middle-class economics,” the president said, means enabling working families to “feel more secure.” Obama promoted affordable childcare and college – as well as sick leave, equal pay and a higher minimum wage – as ways to help families. He wants to make two years of community college free throughout the country, the president said.


NBC News
Image captured by Baptist Press

Some of the president’s proposals to accomplish his goals fall short, conservatives said afterward. Those new efforts include a new tax credit program for two-paycheck families and a significant increase to the child care tax credit, according to the Heritage Foundation.
The child care tax credit “discriminates against married-couple families who make a financial sacrifice so that one parent can care for infant and pre-school children in the home,” wrote Heritage domestic policy expert Robert Rector and policy analyst Rachel Sheffield after the speech. “Tax policy should not unfairly discriminate between families using daycare and families making a financial sacrifice to provide parental care to their children.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said of Obama’s proposal to increase the child care tax credit, “[W]hy not instead increase the child tax credit and give parents the flexibility to decide what’s best for their own family?
“His policies continue to penalize marriage and families, which are vital to economic fairness and success,” Perkins said. “It is unfair to penalize marriage in the tax code, and it doesn’t make economic sense.”
Obama failed to address the greatest economic divider in American society – the collapse of marriage, said Heritage’s Sheffield. Children in single-parent homes are five times as likely to be poor, she said. The president “again neglected to utilize his unique leadership position to call for a restoration of marriage in American communities,” she said.
Obama cited same-sex marriage, which he supports, in the address, saying, “I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in 10 Americans call home.”
Same-sex marriage is legal in 36 states, nearly tripling the 13 states where it was legal just 18 months ago. It also is legal in the District of Columbia. Many Christians and other defenders of the biblical, traditional definition of marriage continue to express concerns about the incursions against religious liberty as gay marriage’s spread continues.
In a reference to abortion, the president said, “We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care that she needs.”
Earlier in the day, the White House issued a statement of administration policy on the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, H.R. 36. Administration officials said they would encourage Obama to veto it if it reaches his desk.
The House was scheduled to vote on it Jan. 22, the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, but lawmakers dropped the bill. The bill would have prohibited abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation. In its place, House representatives will put forward a new bill that aims to permanently ban taxpayer funding of abortions, according to the Associated Press.
“If the president truly believes that declining abortion rates are a good trend, then he should support legislation that would better protect the health of women and lives of unborn children, especially from dangerous and gruesome late-term abortions,” said Sarah Torre, a Heritage policy analyst.
The president, however, affirmed human dignity in his speech, saying he wants “future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we’re a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen – man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino, Asian, immigrant, Native American, gay, straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability. Everybody matters.”
Globally, the United States needs to lead by combining military might with effective diplomacy and “leverage our power with coalition building,” Obama said. America is halting the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) by not “getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East” but by “leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group,” he said.
The president urged Congress to adopt a resolution authorizing the use of force against ISIS.
Sen. Joni Ernst, the newly elected member from Iowa, gave the nationally televised Republican response, explaining the GOP’s priorities as the new majority party in Congress. Ernst is the first female combat veteran elected to the Senate. A member of the Army Reserves, she served as a company commander in Iraq in 2003.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Baptist Press' Washington Bureau chief. The Biblical Recorder added to this report.)

1/22/2015 1:45:54 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Obama meets Naghmeh Abedini in Idaho

January 22 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Naghmeh Abedini, wife of imprisoned American pastor Saeed Abedini, calls it “an answer to prayer” that President Barack Obama accepted her invitation to meet with her during his brief visit to Boise, Idaho on Jan. 21.

“The kids and I will be meeting with President Obama tomorrow! Thank you all for your prayers and support,” Naghmeh Abedini tweeted at 6:19 p.m. Jan. 20. “Praise God! It is a miracle!!!”

She has championed the cause of religious liberty since her husband, a U.S. citizen of Iranian heritage, was sentenced to eight years in prison in Iran for practicing his Christian faith there.

“I have tried over the last two years to meet with the president or even get a phone call from him without success,” Naghmeh said in a statement released by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). “It is truly an answer to prayer that he is coming to Boise and it is a miracle that he is meeting with us. I see God’s Hand in arranging this crucial meeting.”

Nearly 105,000 individuals have signed a petition on the ACLJ’s website asking Obama to hold the meeting during his Boise trip.

“As you know, Pastor Saeed is an American citizen, imprisoned in Iran merely because of his Christian faith,” reads an excerpt from the petition addressed to Obama. “You have publicly called for his release, and your State Department has engaged Iranian diplomats requesting that he be freed. For those actions, we are deeply grateful. Yet he remains in prison, and there are public reports that the United States may reach a nuclear deal with Iran without securing the release of Americans held captive in that country.”

Whitehouse spokesman, Josh Earnest, said “The United States remains concerned about the unjust detention of several Americans in Iran, including Mr. Abedini.”

The ACLJ released a statement from Mrs. Abedini after the meeting:

“The president was focused and gracious – showing concern to me and my children. I know that this meeting could not have occurred without prayer and I am grateful to the many people around the country and world who continue to pray for Saeed’s release. The president repeated his desire to do all that he can to bring Saeed home. That means the world to me and my children and has given me a renewed sense of hope.”

Saeed Abedini was sentenced Jan. 27, 2013, on charges he threatened national security by planting house churches in Iran years earlier. He had been under house arrest since July, 2012, and imprisoned since Sept. 26, 2012. He has faced death threats and beatings in prison and has received inadequate medical care, according to news reports.

Unable to see Naghmeh and their two children, he continues to proclaim his faith in correspondence with her and in conversations with other prisoners. In September, 2014, he wrote to eight-year-old daughter Rebekka Grace on her birthday:

“Jesus allows me to be kept here for His glory. I know that you question why you have prayed so many times for my return and yet I am not home yet. Now there is a big WHY in your mind you are asking: WHY Jesus isn’t answering your prayers and the prayers of all of the people around the world praying for my release and for me to be home with you and our family.

“The answer to the WHY is WHO. WHO is [in] control? LORD JESUS CHRIST is in control,” he wrote.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press. The Biblical Recorder added to this report.)
1/22/2015 1:28:37 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Floyd on Fox: America must ‘return to God’

January 21 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

As Americans focus on President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, they should also consider the spiritual state of the Union, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd said during an appearance on the Fox News Channel Jan. 20.
“I believe it’s time that the faith leaders of our country stand up and encourage our country to return to God,” Floyd said via Skype on Fox’s “The Real Story.” “This country was based off of a strong Christian faith many, many years ago, and it’s time that we understand that no longer can we check our faith at the door like a piece of luggage.”
Floyd added, “The greatest need in America today is a spiritual awakening.”


SBC president, Ronnie Floyd

In a blog article posted on the Fox website to accompany his television appearance, Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in Northwest Arkansas, outlined four of America’s greatest spiritual needs:

  • “We need to repent.”

  • “We need to return to God.”

  • “We need the church to wake up.”

  • “We need spiritual awakening.”

Followers of Jesus must apply biblical teaching to issues being discussed in the public square, Floyd told host Gretchen Carlson.
“The church, for some reason, at times refuses to get involved in the process of our nation,” Floyd said. “And involvement means that we need to be strong about our faith, but we need to do so with compassion and with hope. But we cannot just sit on the sideline and leave the future of our country to the rest of this world.”
Churches in America “must rise up and give the hope and the peace that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring people’s lives,” Floyd said.
When asked by Carlson whether he is calling politicians to lead America’s return to God, Floyd said he wants all Christians to apply their faith to public life – whether they are politicians or private citizens.
“We need to not compartmentalize our faith whether we’re a politician or whether we’re a Christian out here working in the workplace,” Floyd said. “If we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we have a relationship with Him and we believe in His Word, then we obviously need to live out our faith.”
In his blog, Floyd listed problems that highlight America’s need for spiritual awakening.
“The time is now for our nation to recognize that we cannot fix ourselves,” Floyd wrote. “The signs of our brokenness are glistening in our dark world. The blatant destruction of the family, the killing of unborn children, the continuing racial tension, the rebellion against authority, the ongoing reality of poverty, the rising threat of our security, the clear attacks against religious liberty and, of all things, the arrogance to believe the highest court in our land can rule on what the Bible says is genuine marriage testify to just how broken we really are.”
Because of these and other social ills, “The time is now for churches to rise up and address the spiritual state of our nation. With compassion, we need to tell it like it is. With hope, we need to share it like we believe it. With fervency, we need to pray like God alone is our hope,” Floyd wrote.
Following Floyd’s appearance on Fox, Carlson urged Christians in America to speak in the public arena.
“As Dr. Floyd says, this may be the greatest hour for the church to rise up and be the church, to lean in more than ever to serve and influence our communities with understanding and hope,” Carlson said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/21/2015 11:59:38 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Court upholds inmate’s religious liberty

January 21 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously delivered a victory for the religious liberty of prison inmates Jan. 20.

The justices ruled the Arkansas Department of Corrections violated the religious free exercise of a Muslim prisoner by prohibiting him from growing a beard in order to practice his beliefs. The high court found the prison system failed to abide by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a 2000 federal law.

Religious freedom advocates hailed the 9-0 decision as an important win.

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore commended the Supreme Court for doing “the right thing.”

“Religious liberty isn’t a prize earned by those with the most political clout,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Religious liberty is a right given by God to all people. The Court here respected liberty of conscience and free exercise.

“Christians and others should be glad, especially in a time when the most basic religious liberties are routinely dismissed in many corners of our national debate,” he said in a written release. “Thomas Jefferson would be proud of this good decision.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty – which represented the prisoner, Abdul Muhammad, in the case – described the decision as a milestone for all faiths.

“No religion is an island,” Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund, said. “This is not just a win for one prisoner in Arkansas, but a win for all Americans who value religious liberty.”

The Southern Baptist International Mission Board was among organizations that filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of Muhammad.

The religious freedom victory came in a challenge by Muhammad, also known as Gregory Holt, to a prison policy that banned beards on prisoners unless they have a skin disease. The prison system provided no exemption for religious reasons. The Arkansas Department of Corrections contended its policy was to prevent prisoners from hiding contraband in their beards and to keep inmates from disguising their identities.

Muhammad proposed a limit of one-half inch to his beard, but the prison rejected it. A federal judge and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled in the prison system’s favor.

RLUIPA prohibits government policies that substantially burden free exercise of religion by inmates and, in land-use cases, by a person or institution. However, a legal exemption can be claimed by the government by showing it has a “compelling interest” and is using the “least restrictive means” to further that interest.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the Supreme Court, said the prison policy substantially burdened Muhammad’s religious free exercise. The prison, Alito wrote, failed to demonstrates its rule was the “least restrictive means” to advance its interests.

The lower courts “deferred to these prison officials’ mere say-so that they could not accommodate petitioner’s request,” Alito wrote. “RLUIPA, however, demands much more.”

At least 43 state, federal and local prison systems allow beards on inmates, according to the Becket Fund.

“[W]hen so many prisons offer an accommodation, a prison must, at a minimum, offer persuasive reasons why it believes that it must take a different course, and the [Arkansas Department of Corrections] failed to make that showing here,” Alito said.

The Supreme Court, Rassbach said in a written statement, “repeated a fundamental American principle today: government doesn’t get to ride roughshod over religious practices. Where government can accommodate religion, it ought to.”

The Obama administration and a diverse group of organizations filed briefs in support of Muhammad. Among these were Prison Fellowship, American Civil Liberties Union, Alliance Defending Freedom, Muslim Public Affairs Council, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Christian Legal Society and Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

The case was Holt v. Hobbs.

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

1/21/2015 11:51:33 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GGBTS announces site of new N. Calif. campus

January 21 2015 by GGBTS Communications/Baptist Press

Following the relocation of its main campus to Southern California, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary will retain a presence in the San Francisco Bay area by opening a new campus in Fremont, Calif., on land donated by a local congregation that is moving to a house church ministry model.
The new campus will be situated just north of San Jose about 50 miles southeast of the present Mill Valley campus.
Mission Bay Baptist Church in Fremont, announced that it will donate to the seminary land valued at $2.9 million. Golden Gate plans to replace the existing church facilities with academic buildings and has already begun the process of obtaining construction permits. Construction is set to begin soon, though no date was announced for the opening of the Bay Area Campus.
“We are committed to training students in the American west and the Bay Area,” Golden Gate President Jeff Iorg said. “We have been given a generous gift of land in a prime location that will become our new Bay Area Campus. I am amazed at how God continues to bless our school during our relocation efforts.”
Iorg has said previously that the target date for Golden Gate’s main campus relocation to Ontario, Calif., just east of Las Angeles, is June 2016. When Golden Gate finalized the sale of its Mill Valley property in July 2014, administrators stated that the sale agreement allowed the seminary to remain fully operational in its current facilities for two years.
Mission Bay pastor Larry Floyd said the congregation had been praying about how God wanted it to use its former building in light of the shift to a house church ministry model. The land and facility are “kingdom property that we are just passing along,” Floyd said.
“Our mission is to bring the gospel to the world, so giving the property to Golden Gate Seminary absolutely fulfills that goal by training and sending students around the globe,” Floyd said.
Iorg said the Fremont campus will be “a second state-of-the-art campus in California – mirroring what we are creating in Southern California. These two new campuses will anchor seminary training on the West Coast for Southern Baptists for years to come.”
In other news, Iorg announced the appointment of Rick Durst as director of the Bay Area Campus effective Jan. 1, 2016. A professor of historical theology, Durst has served previously as inaugural director of the online campus, vice president of academic affairs and director of the Southern California Campus.
“Dr. Durst is a visionary leader who will help us train Bay Area students for the work of the gospel,” Iorg said. “For years, every time Golden Gate has needed an innovator to start something new, we turn to Rick Durst. His passion for the Bay Area is well-known and his leadership gifts well-proven.”
In accepting his appointment, Durst said, “Golden Gate Seminary has been very gracious to allow me to serve in a variety of leadership roles over the years. I love startups, whether it is a new church, program or campus. The Bay Area Campus will offer the seminary’s high quality theological training, specifically designed to ensure the expedient progress of commuting students’ degree programs.”
Iorg also announced a core faculty at the new Bay Area Campus that will consist of six professors currently teaching at the Mill Valley Campus.
“With Durst’s leadership and this cadre of highly qualified faculty, our commitment to the Bay Area is made clear,” Iorg said. “While we are moving our primary campus to another location, we will continue to train leaders from and for this area for years to come.”
Golden Gate began its relocation process April 1, 2014, by announcing the sale of the Mill Valley Campus. Having finalized the sale for $85 million in July, the seminary purchased a six-story building in Ontario to serve as the new primary campus. The building was constructed in 2009 and has remained vacant due to the economic downturn. The building’s exterior is finished and all mechanical systems have been installed, but its interior is unfinished. Construction of the interior is expected to begin soon.
The seminary intends to add around $50 million to its endowment after completing the two new campuses in Ontario and the Bay Area.
Golden Gate is in the process of requesting approval for a name change to Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. The new name will require approval at two consecutive SBC annual meetings, beginning in 2015 in Columbus, Ohio.
Golden Gate also operates campuses in Brea, Calif.; Phoenix; Denver; and the Portland, Ore., area.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by the communications staff at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.)

1/21/2015 11:45:08 AM by GGBTS Communications/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Missions in postmodern culture WMU focus

January 21 2015 by Julie Walters, Baptist Press

Equipping leaders, preparing children for missional living and focusing on small church ministries will be Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) priorities through 2018, WMU Executive Director Wanda S. Lee announced at the group’s 2015 board meeting.
The national WMU “will focus on equipping for missional living in as many different formats and avenues as possible,” Lee said, outlining leadership development and training opportunities planned the current fiscal year.
“We believe WMU can reshape the way we develop curriculum and guide teachers in their experiences with children and youth to help shape a stronger generation for faith and service,” Lee said.
As a result of a visioning trip to the Nordic cluster in 2013 in partnership with the International Mission Board (IMB) to learn more about postmodernism, Lee said WMU “must take the lead in preparing our children and youth for living in a postmodern culture … for knowing what they believe and how to share their faith in this culture, and for determining the truths of scripture that never change when everything around them is changing.”


Regarding small churches, Lee said WMU will help smaller congregations develop missions discipleship programs for all ages, noting approximately 90 percent of Southern Baptist churches have 250 members or less.
“WMU works well in the small church,” Lee said, “a church with a pastor and maybe another part-time staff member … a church that values the gifts of its laypeople and cannot succeed without them in planning and taking the lead in ministry.”
Addressing faith issues in the midst of trauma will be addressed through WMU’s Project HELP emphasis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“We will continue to seek ways to address the issues of post-traumatic stress our children are now faced with,” Lee said, “from violence in our schools, to effects of war on families, to the response needed in our churches.”
Through Project HELP, WMU identifies a social and moral issue and supports national projects to encourage churches to address it. Since the launch of Project HELP in 1994–1995, WMU has focused on a variety of universal problems including hunger, poverty, HIV/AIDS and racial injustice.
The 150 people in attendance at the Jan. 10-12 WMU Executive Board meeting at the Shocco Springs Conference Center in Talladega, Ala., included WMU board members, state and national WMU staff members and guests.
Speakers included National WMU President Debby Akerman, North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell, IMB President David Platt, and several active missionaries.
In her presidential address, Akerman encouraged state WMU leaders to actively assist churches in starting new WMU missions organizations.
“We produce the finest curricula and resources available for missions information, missions education and missions discipleship,” she said. “We must not sit silent. We must take a stand and help our churches take missions discipleship to the next level for next generations.”
In other business, the board members awarded $230,000 in endowments, grants and scholarships in partnership with the WMU Foundation; adopted overarching plans for WMU work in churches 2016-2018, and replaced the title of Women on Mission planner with Women on Mission leader, effective in September 2015.
Board members also extended through 2016 an emphasis on PTSD as the Project HELP focus issue, approved $175 million as the 2015 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal, and approved $70 million as the 2016 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering goal.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Julie Walters is WMU corporate communications team leader.)

1/21/2015 11:37:15 AM by Julie Walters, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Nigeria too unstable for election

January 21 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Boko Haram’s January attack on Baga and its sustained control of several towns in northeastern Nigeria make credible February presidential elections impossible, Nigeria relations expert Adeniyi Ojutiku told Baptist Press.
“There is no way there can be … free, fair and credible elections while Nigeria is engaged in war against terror, because people cannot feel free to be able to cast their ballot,” Ojutiku said after Boko Haram’s January attack on Baga and surrounding towns that killed about 2,000 and displaced 30,000 more.
“So whatever the outcome, the result of the election is going to be in disputation,” Ojutiku said. “Whatever party loses is going to claim it was not free and fair, so it will again lead to an escalation of the Boko Haram crisis.”
In addition to Baga, Boko Haram has established caliphates in towns covering some 20,000 square miles, including Gwoza, Damboa, Bama, Mafa, Dikwa, Kala Balge, Ngala, Marte, Abadam, Mobar, Kukawa, Guzamala Gubio, Magumeri, Chibok, and Askira/Uba in Borno state; Madagali, Michika, Mubi South, Mubi North, Hong, Gombi and parts of Maiha in Adamawa state, and Gujuba and Gulani in Yobe state, according to an Ojutiku associate in Abuju, Nigeria.
In elections slated Feb. 14, Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan of the ruling People’s Democratic Party faces a strong challenge from a Muslim candidate, Retired Gen. Mohammad Buhari of the All Progressive Congress, a political party formed in 2013 from three ethnically and regionally based parties, according to news reports.
“If [Buhari] loses, the north is going to boil with human carnage. If he wins, and Jonathan loses, the [deep] south where all the oil revenue of Nigeria comes from, is going to cordon off the oil revenue of Nigeria and Nigeria is going to topple into serious economic crisis,” Ojutiku predicted.
A Jonathan victory, Ojutiku said, would incite Boko Haram to escalate attacks and become more genocidal, killing non-indigents in northern Nigeria, including Christians who migrate from the south in search of employment.
“That was what led to the fourth Nigerian civil war. The Nigerian civil war was because the northern Muslims began to kill the Southern Christian Ibos,” Ojutiku said. “There is going to be a repeat of that event because this time they are going to just go after the southerners, the people who have migrated from the south to work in the north.” While oil is concentrated in the south, the revenue does not benefit southern Nigerians, Ojutiku said.
“We have two possible scenarios it seems like we cannot avoid. So whoever wins, whichever wins, there is going to be a crisis situation in Nigeria,” Ojutiku said. “Going into the election, people are already killing each other … destroying each other’s property.”
Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist in Raleigh, N.C., has founded Lift Up Now, a grassroots outreach to reform his homeland economically and spiritually. A Lift Up Now representative from Nigeria, Ojutiku said, will speak during a Jan. 27 congressional hearing on the Nigeria elections, hosted by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations.
Another Lift Up Now supporter, Emmanuel Ibrahim, a member of the Church of Christ in Nations Church in Abuja, Nigeria, told Ojutiku that many members of the electorate in northeastern Nigeria have been displaced from their homes, their polling places and voting identification cards destroyed.
“Most of the electorates have been dispersed from their homes, local governments, states, [and] the country to refugee camps scattered all over Cameroon, Chad Republic, Niger Republic and the internally displaced persons camps in Maiduguri, Yola and Gombe,” Ibrahim emailed Ojutiku. “The question now is where are all these eligible voters who have become Internally Displaced Person’s in their own country going to cast their votes?”
Internally displaced persons not only have no locations to cast their votes, but likely do not have copies of their voter credentials issued in 2011, as their belongings were destroyed in Boko Haram attacks, Ibrahim wrote.
Boko Haram, seeking to establish Sharia law, had killed thousands of Christians, moderate Muslims, government officials and civilians in attacks targeting religious communities in Northern Nigeria since 2012, according to news reports, with the death toll calculated between 10,000 and 12,000. An estimated 1.5 million Nigerians have been forced to flee their homes, according to September 2014 figures from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Boko Haram intensified attacks in Nigeria after Jonathan declared a state of emergency in northeastern Nigeria in May 2013 and has become more indiscriminate in attacks that originally targeted Christians.
“The crisis has escalated beyond just killing Christians,” Ojutiku said Jan. 12. “Now there is evidence that this very radical Islamic sect is now devouring their own moderate Muslims. Initially, yes, Christians, but now they are more indiscriminate.”
The U.S. State Department designated Boko Haram an official foreign terrorist organization in December 2013, giving the U.S. added power to weaken the group. The European Union followed in June, designating the jihadists a terror group.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/21/2015 11:28:47 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ergun Caner steps down as Brewton-Parker president

January 20 2015 by Brewton-Parker College

In an early morning meeting with the full trustee board of Brewton-Parker College (BPC), Ergun Caner briefly addressed the packed room informing them he was stepping down as their sixteenth president. Below is the prepared statement as Caner presented it:

“I have asked for the unusual privilege of calling together the board of trustees this morning, before the committees meet.

“I believe a summary of the past twelve months is in order, given our context. When I arrived last year, we immediately set out to prepare for the [Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)] Team visit in April. That visit did not go as we had expected, and it led to our appeal in San Antonio in June. Though the appeal vote did not resolve our five-year struggle, in September we won a remand of our case with SACS, and along with our attorneys and the entire executive team, we prepared in earnest for December. We presented our case before the SACS committee on Dec. 6, and two days later, we accomplished what no other college has ever done – we were reaffirmed by SACS and taken off probation. After five years of struggle we are out of crisis.

“Intermingled with all those legal meetings, the college saw over one hundred students saved in our fall revival, balanced our budget and ended our fiscal year in the black.

“This herculean effort and victory could not have been accomplished anywhere else, I believe. The faculty, staff, board and students of BPC are to be commended, and BPC is now ready to once again be a thriving institution.

“I missed two very obvious events of the past year however. In July, my fifteen-year old son Braxton committed suicide. I was back to work a week later because, frankly, that’s all I knew to do. The subsequent result was my hospitalization in November. A heart catheterization, the removal of seven pints of fluid and all the tests in the world can’t resolve this one issue.

“Brewton-Parker College cannot become a healthy, growing and stable college under the leadership of a man who is broken. And I am admitting to you that I am broken. I can’t get over his death, and I am not sure I want to. I do know that I cannot muster the fight needed to be the leader of our college. My family and my heart need healing, and you deserve better.

“Therefore I am resigning as president, so I can go back to Texas and heal with my wife and ten-year-old son, Drake. It is one thing to lead a college through a crisis, but this position demands a person’s full attention and full strength. At the moment, I have neither. When Braxton died, a part of me died as well.

“I shall endeavor to fulfill whatever obligations are necessary through the year, though I believe attending to the needs of my family are most important to me at the moment. I want to personally thank you for calling me as President, and allowing me to see the greatest victories I’ve ever experienced in my entire 30-year professional life. I believe God has an incredible future in store for Brewton Parker College. I shall be cheering you on.”
Ergun Caner, D.Theol.
Immediately after the outgoing president read his resignation, chairman of the trustee board, Gary Campbell, called the board into executive session and dismissed all non-board members. After approximately 45 minutes in executive session, the board released a resolution of support for Caner they unanimously adopted.
Below is the resolution in full:

WHEREAS, Dr. Ergun Caner served as President of Brewton-Parker College from January 1, 2014 to January 20, 2015, a crucial and pivotal time for the college; and
WHEREAS, during Dr. Ergun Caner’s tenure, Brewton-Parker College overcame a monumental challenge when the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS) first voted to remove the school from accreditation, then, upon a successful appeal of this decision, the school celebrated a great victory in December 2014, when SACS fully reinstated Brewton-Parker’s accreditation; and
WHEREAS, during Dr. Ergun Caner’s tenure, Brewton-Parker College continued to grow stronger financially, lives were won on campus with decisions for Jesus Christ and the mission of the school continued forward; and
WHEREAS, Dr. Caner and his family recently suffered a tragic loss in the death of their son, Braxton; now
BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Trustees of Brewton-Parker College hereby express our thanks and appreciation for Dr. Ergun Caner’s service; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Trustees of Brewton-Parker College, pray for God’s blessing and restoration for Dr. Caner and his family as they move forward through a time of personal tragedy and healing; and for Dr. Caner much success in his future endeavors.

1/20/2015 1:21:40 PM by Brewton-Parker College | with 0 comments

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