January 2015

ERLC unveils leadership council for 2015

January 20 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has introduced its new Leadership Network Council.
The 40 Southern Baptist pastors and leaders announced Thursday (Jan. 15) will serve as the advisory council for the entity’s Leadership Network in 2015. The ERLC unveiled the network and its first advisory council last January. Most members of the council serve for one year.
The Leadership Network is open to men and women who seek to identify with the ERLC’s gospel-focused approach to cultural issues in their roles as pastors, leaders or lay people.
Council members – all of whom are serving or have served in pastoral ministry – will receive equipping from the ERLC staff and give guidance to the network. They also may provide content for the entity’s website.
ERLC President Russell Moore described the council as “one of the most beneficial initiatives of 2014.”
“It provided us a chance to invest in a strategic group of key leaders,” he said in a written release. “But it also allowed us to get reporting from the front lines of ministry about ethical issues cropping up in communities around the country.”
He is elated to welcome the new council members, Moore said, “in order to equip them to apply the gospel to the cultural and ethical issues they face in ministry every day.”
Fred Luter, the Southern Baptist Convention’s first African-American president and pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, La., is one of the new council members.
In addition to Luter, other new members of the council are:

  • Mike Cosper, pastor of worship and arts at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville.

  • D.A. Horton, executive director of ReachLife Ministries in Atlanta and the North American Mission Board’s national coordinator for urban student missions;

  • Kevin Peck, lead pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas.

  • Vance Pitman, senior pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas.

  • Juan Sanchez, preaching pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin.

  • Robbie Seay, worship pastor of Bayou City Fellowship-Cypress, Texas, and leader of the Robbie Seay Band.

  • Hershael York, preaching professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

In the ERLC release announcing the new council, Matt Chandler said it was a blessing to be a member last year. “When I need help navigating the challenging ethical issues that exist in today’s culture, the ERLC is a great resource for me,” said Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.
The benefits of belonging to the ERLC’s Leadership Network include receiving unique content, gaining preferred access to commission events and securing discounts for events and materials. There is no charge to register for the network. Members of the network receive regular messages from the ERLC regarding materials and other benefits.
While the network is open to all, the ERLC fills the network council annually on an invitation only basis.
Registration for the network, the entire list of council members and other information are available online at http://erlc.com/network/.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/20/2015 10:21:34 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Sanctity of Life: Family blessed through adoption

January 20 2015 by Jessica Vanderpool, Arkansas Baptist News

Those who know Haylee Kirtley would probably describe her as a talkative, sweet 6-year-old with a big heart. She is good at school, enjoys playing soccer and, like so many girls her age, loves Elsa from the movie “Frozen.”
And to her parents, she is a gift from God – a gift for whom they waited a long time.
Jada and Allen Kirtley, members of First Baptist Church, Dumas, Ark., tried to have children for a decade before Jada Kirtley underwent a medically necessary procedure that made it impossible for her to bear children.
It might have seemed like the end of a dream for the couple. But Jada Kirtley, who serves as assistant director for First Baptist Church’s day care center, knew God could make her a mother if it was His will.


Contributed photo
Allen, Jada and Haylee Kirtley

“We’d been praying for a child before this, and so I finally just said, ‘Well, God, it’s in Your hands like it always has been,’” Jada Kirtley recalled. “And I said, ‘If I’m meant to be a mother, You will make it happen in Your own timing.”
A couple of months after her medical procedure, Jada Kirtley’s cousin told her of a woman who was pregnant and planned to place her child for adoption. The Kirtleys met with the family; then they waited to hear if they would be chosen as the adoptive parents.
Allen Kirtley said his wife was nervous that they would not be chosen.
“So she and I got in the floor in our living room, held hands and I prayed for our God to give us (this) baby and let us be this baby’s mom and dad,” Allen Kirtley said. “I can tell you that when we got up, God told me she was ours and I would not believe anything else but what God had told me.”
A few days later, they received the news that they had been chosen as the adoptive parents, and a few weeks after that, Haylee was born.
“I was in the delivery room when she was born,” Jada Kirtley said. “And so I got to hold her first.... The nurse put a warm blanket over me and placed her in my arms and said, ‘Here.’ And so I carried her out of the operating room to the nursery.”
Allen Kirtley recalled looking at her in the hospital.
“I can tell you right then and there I knew how much God loves me because that one instant I was in love with that little girl more than anything and to think God loves me more than I could love anything,” he said.
Jada Kirtley said the adoption of Haylee brought her story full circle.
Jada Kirtley, herself, was adopted. In fact, it was her aunt – the mother of the cousin who helped the Kirtleys find Haylee – who helped Jada Kirtley’s own parents adopt her.
“Adoption to me is the most wonderful thing in the world ... because these ladies could have chosen abortion over adoption, and you know there are so many ... women who can’t have children of their own,” Jada said. “And that whole adoption process was just wonderful.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jessica Vanderpool is assistant editor of the Arkansas Baptist News, newsjournal of the Arkansas Baptist Convention.)

1/20/2015 10:05:45 AM by Jessica Vanderpool, Arkansas Baptist News | with 0 comments

King’s vision embraced by Ala. church

January 19 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

An Alabama church whose pastor was criticized 52 years ago by Martin Luther King Jr. for contributing to the “silent – and often vocal – sanction” of racial segregation says today it has come to embrace the civil rights pioneer’s vision for Christian fellowship among people of all races.
“Fifty years ago, our church and its relationship with Dr. King reflected the divisiveness of a difficult time in American history,” Jim Cooley, current pastor of First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., told Baptist Press. “Today our church reflects the inclusiveness of churches who recognize that everyone is a person Christ died for and everyone has a place within God’s house.”
Today First Baptist has white, black, Hispanic and South Asian members and conducts outreach to people of other ethnic groups. But that was not the case in 1963, when First Baptist’s pastor, Earl Stallings, was one of eight white Protestant, Catholic and Jewish clergymen in Birmingham to whom King addressed his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”


SBHLA photo
Earl Stallings, pastor of First Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., welcomed black worshipers following an Easter service in 1963.


Amid protests of racial segregation in the city, King was arrested for disobeying a judge’s injunction against demonstrating. While in prison, King read in the newspaper a statement by Stallings and the seven other religious leaders agreeing that injustice existed but accusing King of being an “outsider” who used “extreme measures” that incited “hate and violence.”
King responded at length, criticizing “white moderates” who claimed to favor integration but wanted blacks to wait rather than protest. He also took exception with the charge that civil rights activists were extremists.
“Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ Was not Martin Luther an extremist: ‘Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God,’” King wrote.
“... So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime – the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists,” King wrote.
Though criticized by King, Stallings, who died in 2006, was also praised by name in the letter for opening his church to black worshipers days earlier on Easter Sunday – a move that drew criticism from segregationists.
“I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis,” King wrote.
Years later, Stallings told Samford University history professor Jonathan Bass that he was harassed and threatened following his decision to admit black worshipers, and his wife Ruth feared for his life when he left home to go to his office. The experience led Stallings to vow that he would never discuss his years in Birmingham while Ruth was alive – a promise he kept, talking about his experience at First Baptist only after Ruth died in 2001.
Stallings left First Baptist in 1965 to assume a pastorate in Georgia, but racial tension persisted in Birmingham. In the early 1970s, a black woman presented herself for membership at First Baptist, and the disagreement over whether to receive her was one factor that contributed to a church split.
Carlisle Driggers, who served as an associate pastor at First Baptist between 1969-71, went with the splinter group and agreed with its plan to welcome people of all races.
Many of the people who remained at First Baptist “were not rabid segregationists by any means,” Driggers, who went on to become executive director of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, told BP. “Some of them were, but some of them were not.”
Yet national media reports portrayed First Baptist as opposed to integration, Driggers said.
Many members “who were cast as anti-integration had hardly ever gone out of Alabama,” Driggers said. “They were homegrown folks and they lived there, worked there and were educated there. And they protected Alabama fiercely, whereas the ones who were more progressive and open to interracial ministries and having the church develop outreach to blacks ... had gone off to be educated in other parts of the country” or had jobs that required them to travel and interact with persons of other races.
In time, First Baptist moved from downtown Birmingham to its present location in Homewood. Cooley said few members today know who Stallings was, but they embrace King’s vision of a multiracial church, a reality underscored recently by the congregation’s celebration of an African American teenager’s baptism as a natural part of their worship.
The struggles of the civil rights era “happened to different people a long time ago,” pastor Cooley said. First Baptist “decided it wanted to be a church that extended the arms of Jesus to everybody.”
James Dixon, an African American pastor who lived in Birmingham in 1963, urged Southern Baptists to learn from the resistance to racial inclusion of congregations like First Baptist in the mid-20th century. If churches had fulfilled their responsibility to love people of all races, the “outsiders” of whom Stallings and others complained would not have had to lead protests, Dixon said.
Churches tend to discuss the topic of race only “when you’ve got a devastating situation going on, when people have lost their lives,” Dixon, now the longtime pastor of El Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md., said. “But I think the church needs to be very deliberate in embracing the Bible and let the Bible be the driving force by which we act in terms of our love.”
As Southern Baptists worship this Martin Luther King Day weekend, they must accompany their commitment to biblical doctrine with a recommitment to living out the Great Commandment of loving God and neighbors, Dixon said.
“We need to revisit the Great Commandment and really understand what it means when we’re looking at love,” Dixon said. “The Great Commandment fully understood opens the door to the Great Commission.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/19/2015 1:20:23 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

How Southern Baptists became pro-life

January 19 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

In 1979, Larry Lewis picked up a copy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and saw a full-page ad listing the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) among denominations that affirmed the right to abortion.
“Right there beside the Unitarians and universalists was the Southern Baptist Convention,” Lewis, a St. Louis pastor who went on to become president of the Home Mission Board (HMB; now the North American Mission Board), told Baptist Press (BP). “... That bothered me a lot.”
So Lewis did something about it, proposing in 1980 the first of more than 20 pro-life resolutions adopted by the SBC over the next few decades. When Lewis became HMB president of in 1987, one of his first actions was to create the office of abortion alternatives to help churches establish crisis pregnancy centers.
Thanks to Lewis and others, newspapers do not call the SBC pro-choice anymore.

Before Roe v. Wade

In 1979 though, it may have seemed a reasonable classification.
Baptists and Roman Catholics had long agreed that life begins at conception, but Baptist scholars, unlike their Catholic counterparts, generally did not develop biblical and theological arguments regarding unborn children. By the mid-20th century, abortion rarely came up among Southern Baptists, and average church members had only “a general feeling that abortion was wrong,” Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University, told Baptist Press.
Things got worse in the ‘60s. “The whole nation and culture kind of went off the rails and lost its moral moorings, including any kind of understanding of the sanctity of pre-born life,” he said.


SBHLA photo
Larry Lewis, former president of the Home Mission Board seen here in 1979, led the board to establish a ministry to assist churches in opening crisis pregnancy centers.


Between 1965-68, abortion was referenced at least 85 times in popular magazines and scholarly journals, but no Baptist state paper mentioned abortion and no Baptist body took action related to the subject, according to a 1991 Ph.D. dissertation by Paul Sadler at Baylor University.
In 1970, a poll conducted by the Baptist Sunday School Board found that 70 percent of Southern Baptist pastors supported abortion to protect the mental or physical health of the mother, 64 percent supported abortion in cases of fetal deformity and 71 percent in cases of rape.
Three years later, a poll conducted by the Baptist Standard newsjournal found that 90 percent of Texas Baptists believed their state’s abortion laws were too restrictive.
Support for abortion rights was not limited to theological moderates and liberals. At New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in the early 1970s, some conservative students who went on to become state convention presidents and pastors of prominent churches supported abortion for reasons other than to save the life of the mother, Richard Land, said former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
“They pretty much bought into the idea that life begins when breath begins, and they just thought of [abortion] as a Catholic issue,” Land, who attended New Orleans Seminary between 1969-72, said of his fellow students.
A 1971 SBC resolution on abortion appeared to capture the consensus. It stated that “society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life.”
But the resolution added, “We call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

Reaction to Roe

When the Supreme Court legalized abortion on demand in 1973 with its Roe v. Wade decision, some Southern Baptists criticized the ruling while maintaining their support of abortion rights as defined in the 1971 resolution.
Others embraced the Supreme Court’s decision. A Baptist Press analysis article written by then-Washington bureau chief Barry Garrett declared that the court had “advanced the cause of religious liberty, human equality and justice.”
Norma McCorvey, the unnamed plaintiff in Roe v. Wade who later became a pro-life activist, made her first public statement after the ruling to BP, revealing her true identity. One of McCorvey’s attorneys, Linda Coffee, was a Southern Baptist and also granted BP an interview.
“It’s great to know that other women will not have to go through what I did,” McCorvey told BP in 1973, commenting on her experience of giving birth and placing her child up for adoption. “I’m glad the court decided that women, in consultation with a doctor, can control their own bodies.”
A 1981 pamphlet published by the Christian Life Commission, a precursor organization to the ERLC, spoke of “Christian concern for the value of the defenseless fetus” but went on to argue, “It is questionable that Christian love and justice would be served by extremely restrictive laws which do not give conscientious people with proper medical advice the opportunity to choose when they are faced with very grave moral dilemmas related to abortion.”
In a more extreme stance, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Paul Simmons argued that “God is pro-choice,” and some prominent Baptist leaders were among early supporters of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights.

How opinions changed

Not all Southern Baptists supported abortion rights, however. Lewis became strongly pro-life in the late 1960s when he and his wife sought to adopt a child, believing they were unable to have biological children. The Lewises – who eventually had three biological children – were told they had to wait five years to adopt due to a shortage of children.
“To me it was incongruous that people would be destroying their babies when there were [couples] who were desperately wanting children,” Lewis said.
For Land, a high school science class drove home the reality that unborn babies were humans worthy of protection. A classmate whose father was an obstetrician brought a fetus to school in a jar of formaldehyde as a prop for a presentation and stored it beside Land’s desk. When Land told the teacher he was disturbed by the fetus, he was sent to the principal’s office, where a school administrator asked, “You’re not Catholic, are you?”
A few months later, Land’s mother told him doctors had urged her to abort him, believing he would be born with severe abnormalities.
“From that moment forward, I really felt an obligation to speak up for unborn children who couldn’t speak for themselves, because I had been in danger,” Land, who was president of the Christian Life Commission (CLC)/ERLC for 25 years and now serves as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, said.
As the 1970s progressed, Land, Lewis and thousands of individual Southern Baptists – including the organization Southern Baptists for Life – argued for protecting unborn life in all cases except to save the physical life of the mother. Among non-Southern Baptists, apologist Francis Schaeffer and future U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop argued that abortion was immoral and gained increased support for the pro-life cause.
Southern Baptists as prominent as W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, began to shift from a qualified pro-choice view to fully embrace the pro-life position.
Following the Roe v. Wade decision, news sources reported that Criswell said, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”
But, according to Land, Criswell “listened intently” to pro-life arguments during the ensuing years, including arguments Land made while teaching at Criswell College beginning in 1975. When the “Criswell Study Bible” was published in 1979, Criswell included “overtly pro-life” study notes, Land said.
Mirroring Criswell’s change of mind were similar changes in the broader evangelical world. Theologians Carl Henry and Norman Geisler, for example, both became ardently pro-life.
“Some of our pastors in those years hadn’t really studied what scripture said about abortion,” Jerry Vines, former SBC president and retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., told BP. “But I think the carnage [of increased abortion following Roe v. Wade] drove them back to their Bibles to take a further look at it.”
Studying a Greek word from the New Testament “really nailed down the abortion issue for me,” Vines said.
The word “brephos,” translated as “baby,” is used eight times in the New Testament, Vines said. Six of those occurrences refer to children who have already been born, but two speak of John the Baptist in his mother’s womb.
“That’s pretty convincing evidence that scripture looks on a baby in its mother’s womb as a baby,” said Vines, who also noted Jeremiah 1 and Psalm 139 as convincing pro-life passages.

Moving forward

When a succession of conservative presidents were selected by messengers to lead the SBC beginning in 1979, they appointed resolutions committees that consistently proposed pro-life statements. In turn, messengers to the convention’s annual meetings supported those statements – partially because some had changed their opinions and partially because greater numbers of conservative messengers were attending the meetings.
Meanwhile, Land was elected chief executive of the Christian Life Commission in 1988 and made defending unborn life one of the entity’s priorities. Under his leadership, the CLC lobbied for pro-life legislation in Congress and taught Southern Baptists how a biblical ethic of life applied to abortion, reproductive technology, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research.
Current SBC President Ronnie Floyd told BP that Southern Baptists must build on victories of the past and rearticulate their commitment to defend unborn life in every generation.
“If we continually hold high our commitment to holy scripture, to the lordship of Jesus Christ and our commitment to human life from the moment of conception, I think we can constantly be an effective voice” for life, Floyd said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

1/19/2015 1:08:37 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Supporters rally for fired Atlanta fire chief

January 19 2015 by Baptist Press staff

Some 600 people gathered at the Georgia Capitol Jan. 13 to support terminated Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran and ask elected officials to preserve religious liberty.
Following the rally, demonstrators delivered 40,000 petitions to Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed requesting Cochran’s reinstatement. Reed fired Cochran Jan. 6 following his publication of a book that calls homosexual behavior immoral.
Meanwhile, former Southern Baptist Convention president Bryant Wright warned the Georgia House of Representatives Jan. 14 that protection of so-called gay rights is threatening religious liberty, drawing criticism from an openly gay Georgia legislator.
At the rally for Cochran, Georgia Baptist Convention executive director Robert White told Christians, “It is time to stand up for our faith.”


Photo by Bryan Nowak/Georgia Baptist Convention
Hundreds of residents showed up for a rally in support of dismissed fire chief Kelvin Cochran, which begin at the Capitol and ended with a walk to City Hall, where nearly 40,000 petitions were presented to the office of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.


“We have been very courteous and quiet, but now we must become courageous and vocal about those things we hold dear as Christians and as Americans,” White said.
Cochran is a deacon, Sunday School teacher and Bible study leader at Atlanta’s Elizabeth Baptist Church, a cooperating church with the Georgia Baptist Convention. A two-time Atlanta fire chief, Cochran also served as U.S. Fire Administrator under President Obama from 2009-10.
“Mayor Reed,” White said, “you have probably fired the most loyal employee you ever had.”
Cochran delivered the final address of the rally, telling supporters that “freedom of religion and freedom of speech are under attack.”
Cochran said his termination served as a warning to all city employees that “if you seek to live out the true meaning of our nation’s Pledge and Constitution and have a living faith and believe that sex should be between a man and woman in the bonds of holy matrimony, ... you had better keep your mouth shut or you will be fired.”
He continued, “This experience has taught me that there are worldly consequences for publicly standing for righteousness, but I stand before you to tell you that the Kingdom consequences are far greater and more glorious than the earthly consequences.”
Among other speakers at the rally were Wellington Boone, bishop of the Father’s House in Atlanta; Craig Oliver, pastor of Elizabeth Baptist Church; Ken Barun, chief of staff for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; and Alveda King, niece of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
In related news, Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., said while delivering a devotional to the Georgia legislature that “erotic liberty” wrongly trumps religious liberty when Christians are required to support same-sex marriage in word or deed.
“We’re liable to see this with our military chaplains in the years ahead if they in good conscience believe they cannot perform same-sex weddings and could be kicked out of the military,” Wright said according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Lawmakers should protect the principle and practice of religious liberty even if “a majority of your constituencies have embraced erotic liberty over religious liberty,” Wright said.
Simone Bell, one of three openly gay Georgia legislators posted on her Facebook page that she told Wright “he is a disgrace to the clergy, the Word and the state of Georgia. ...
“He responded that we clearly have a difference of opinion.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)


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Atlanta fire chief fired over pro-family book

1/19/2015 12:41:28 PM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

LifeWay moves forward with possible property sale

January 19 2015 by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources

Based on the positive results of a feasibility study, LifeWay Christian Resources is moving forward with the possible sale of its Nashville property.
Five months ago, LifeWay announced a preliminary study of the feasibility of selling the ministry’s 14.5-acre campus in downtown Nashville that would allow the organization to relocate to facilities better suited to LifeWay’s future.
“The results of the study confirmed there was interest favorable enough for us to take another step,” Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay, said.
LifeWay has had conversations with local, regional and national entities about selling the property and accepted offers through mid-January.
“We’ll then begin an involved process of studying, comparing and considering any offers we receive,” Rainer said.


LifeWay’s downtown campus includes nine buildings with more than 1 million square feet of office, warehouse and parking space.
Rainer said reasons to consider selling the property include:

  • Changes over the last 50 years in how LifeWay does ministry have created a need for workspaces that support LifeWay’s technologies, strategies and culture now and in the future.

  • LifeWay uses only one-third of its current space.

  • The opportunity to build a new facility designed specifically for the ministries LifeWay provides now and in the future.

If the property does sell, Rainer said his “very strong preference is for the ministry to stay in downtown Nashville.” LifeWay is looking at several pieces of property in the downtown area as potential sites to build a new building.
“Most of our current space was designed and built in the middle of the last century and for a much different work environment,” Rainer said. “We need a workplace designed to support the technologies, collaboration, and culture needed for today’s and tomorrow’s successful national and international ministry.”
LifeWay hired a local design and consulting firm, Gresham, Smith and Partners (GSP), to help determine the size and type of space LifeWay needs to serve churches more effectively and efficiently.
Rainer said planners estimate construction of a new building would take at least two years.
“This is an exciting time that would help shape LifeWay and our ministries for decades into the future,” Rainer said. “We want to be the very best stewards of what the Lord, Southern Baptists, and our churches have entrusted to our care so we might honor Him now and in the future.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Carol Pipes is editorial manager for LifeWay’s communication team.)

1/19/2015 12:31:20 PM by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Supreme Court to rule on same-sex marriage

January 19 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court will not wait any longer to rule on same-sex marriage.
The high court announced Jan. 16 that it would review an appeals court decision on the issue. The announcement came after a private conference among the justices the same day.
The court will hear oral arguments in March or April and likely issue an opinion before it adjourns this summer. Depending on the justices’ decision, gay marriage could be legal throughout the country by the end of June or states could maintain their authority to define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
Advocates on both sides of the issue recognized the importance of the high court’s order.
“This case could potentially transform the cultural landscape of America,” Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said. “We should pray for the court, that they will not seek to redefine marriage. Marriage was not created by government action, and it shouldn’t be re-created by government action.”


“And even more than that,” Moore said, “we should pray for churches who will know how to articulate and embody a Christian vision of marriage as the one-flesh union of a man and a woman in the tumultuous years ahead.”
One of the leading supporters of same-sex marriage also commented on the high court’s decision to review gay marriage. “The Supreme Court’s decision today begins what we hope will be the last chapter in our campaign to win marriage nationwide – and it’s time,” Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 36 states, nearly three times the number of states where it was legal just 18 months ago. It also is legal in the District of Columbia.
The high court granted review of a November decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals involving challenges to laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit, which is based in Cincinnati, was the first federal appellate body to rule states could limit marriage to the union of a man and a woman. Four other appeals courts had previously invalidated state laws that prohibited gay marriage.
In its order, the Supreme Court consolidated four cases and limited consideration to two questions: (1) Does the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution require a state “to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?” and (2) Does the 14th Amendment require a state “to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?”
The court set the time for oral arguments on the first question at 90 minutes. It allotted one hour for arguments on the second question.
The court’s decision may provide some clarity in a legal debate that has been especially active during the last 18 months.
Courts have issued more than three dozen opinions in favor of gay marriage since the Supreme Court struck down a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, saying it violated “equal protection” under the Constitution by refusing to recognize same-sex marriages. Though the high court refused to say states could not limit marriage to heterosexual couples, most courts have used the decision as a basis for striking down state laws that define marriage as only between a man and a woman. Only a handful of decisions have conflicted with the pro-gay marriage trend.
In October, the high court denied review of federal appeals court decisions overturning laws in five states that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. The justices’ refusal to hear the appeals came in spite of requests from both sides of the same-sex marriage debate that they rule soon. The ERLC joined four other religious organizations in a September friend-of-the-court brief urging the justices “to end the divisive national debate.” The current legal ambiguity is burdening religious organizations and people of faith, they said.
The expansion of same-sex marriage has resulted in a clash between the supposed rights of gay couples and the religious freedom of individuals and organizations. Photographers, florists, bakers and other business owners who oppose serving in support of same-sex wedding ceremonies have been penalized or are facing penalties for their refusal.
In the cases the justices will consider, the voters of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee all approved constitutional amendments between 2004 and 2006 that limited marriage to a man and a woman.
(EDITOR’S NOTE ­– Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/19/2015 12:14:57 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

After resistance, Duke cancels Muslims’ call to prayer

January 16 2015 by Mariam Sobh, Religion News Service

Officials at Duke University abruptly dropped plans to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer from the iconic bell tower of Duke Chapel after unspecified security threats and online protests led by evangelist Franklin Graham.
The decision on Thursday (Jan. 15) came one day before the “Athan,” or traditional call to prayer, was to be broadcast from the heart of campus in Durham, N.C.
Michael Schoenfeld, a Duke vice president for public affairs and government relations, said in a statement the school remains committed to “fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus” for all students but “it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”
Schoenfeld said campus officials were aware of several security threats but declined to elaborate.
Graham, who leads his father’s Billy Graham Evangelistic Association from Charlotte, said the call to prayer includes the words “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” which was shouted by Islamist militants during last week’s deadly attacks across Paris.
“As Christianity is being excluded from the public square and followers of Islam are raping, butchering, and beheading Christians, Jews and anyone who doesn’t submit to their Sharia Islamic law, Duke is promoting this in the name of religious pluralism,” he said on his Facebook page.


Flickr photo courtesy Erini Barker
Duke Chapel sits at the heart of the Gothic-style campus in Durham, N.C.


Graham urged alumni to withhold donations until the call to prayer was suspended, and the #boycottDuke hashtag spread on Twitter. On Friday, Graham called the change “the right decision.”
Duke was founded by Methodists but is now largely secular. The Duke Chapel at the center of campus bills itself as a “Christian church of uniquely interdenominational character and purpose,” said Graham.
Duke Divinity School houses the Baptist House of Studies that utilizes Baptist faculty and staff to serve more than 100 students from various Baptist affiliations. The Baptist House is not funded by or associated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina or the Southern Baptist Convention.
Omid Safi, director of the Duke Islamic Studies Center, said in an email that he was deeply disappointed by the decision. About 700 of the university’s 18,000 students are Muslim.
“What could have been a celebration of Duke’s commitment to our robust and diverse religious community has had to be adjusted due to the bigotry of Franklin Graham (a noted Islam-hater since 2001) and anonymous people leaving threatening and violent messages for members of the Duke community.
“I know that there are many inside of the Duke community and beyond who want to see us be better, be a loving and welcoming community in which all of us bring our religious particularity to the public arena. I look forward to that beloved religious community at Duke, in America, and in the world community.”
Safi said Duke’s Muslim community had received “credible threats” but said Friday prayers would continue as normal in the Duke Chapel lounge.
“The call to prayer will be given. It just won’t be amplified from the Chapel top,” he wrote.
Khalilah Sabra, executive director of the MAS Immigrant Justice Center, and a member of the Raleigh-Durham Muslim community, said the reversal was the result of Graham pulling “his ranks together.”
Sabra cited Graham’s outspoken criticisms of Islam. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he called Islam a “very evil and wicked religion” and last year called Islam “a false religion.” In 2010, he apologized after questioning President Obama’s Christian faith, saying he was “born a Muslim … and the Islamic world sees the president as one of theirs.”
“Basically for years, since 9/11 he has waged a campaign against Islam, against the rights of Muslims,” said Sabra. “He has said basically they’re going to hell. He never misses an opportunity to suppress the dialogue of Muslims in North Carolina.”
Sabra said Duke’s Friday prayers were supposed to be followed by an open discussion to talk about the pros and cons of having the “Athan” amplified from the bell tower. She said it would have been an event that gave Muslim students a chance to feel like they belonged.
“The majority of students were kindergartners when 9/11 happened. They were reared in a hostile environment, full of Islamophobia and bigotry. This was a way to get them feeling included and connected, to get them to connect with the American college environment, and the whole thing went up in smoke.”

1/16/2015 2:45:04 PM by Mariam Sobh, Religion News Service | with 1 comments

‘I did not go to heaven,’ teen admits his book was fiction

January 16 2015 by Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today/Religion News Service

A Christian publisher will stop selling The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven now that the young subject paralyzed in a car crash says the story of going to heaven is not true.
Tyndale House told both NPR and The Washington Post that it will withdraw the best-selling 2010 book by Alex Malarkey and his father, Kevin Malarkey.
The publisher made the decision after Alex wrote an “open letter” to the retailer LifeWay Christian Resources which said, “I did not die. I did not go to Heaven.” It was posted on the Pulpit and Pen website.


Picture via YouTube
Alex Malarkey was severely injured in a car accident, and his reported visions of heaven formed the basis of the book, “The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven,” which he now says was a fake.

The Malarkey book is one of a spate of best-sellers about and by those who say they have gone to heaven and returned. The best-known is Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo, a No. 1 USA Today best-seller, which was turned into a movie.
The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven peaked at No. 46 on USA Today’s list.
According to the publisher’s description of the book, “in 2004, Kevin Malarkey and his 6-year-old son, Alex, suffered an horrific car accident. The impact from the crash paralyzed Alex — and medically speaking, it was unlikely that he could survive. ‘I think Alex has gone to be with Jesus,’ a friend told the stricken dad. But two months later, Alex awoke from a coma with an incredible story to share. Of events at the accident scene and in the hospital while he was unconscious. Of the angels that took him through the gates of heaven itself.”
But in his open letter, Alex wrote: “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”
He also said: “Please forgive the brevity (of the letter), but because of my (medical) limitations I have to keep this short.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jocelyn McClurg writes for USA Today.)

1/16/2015 1:30:33 PM by Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today/Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Pastors’ HERO lawsuit to go before jury

January 16 2015 by Baptist Press

A lawsuit brought by local pastors and others challenging the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance will be decided by a jury rather than a judge, a Texas district judge has ruled in a decision pro-family activists label a victory.
The ordinance, known as HERO, extends civil rights protection to individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Judge Robert Schaffer’s Jan. 13 ruling is “great news,” plaintiff Jared Woodfill told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s great to see that this judge is not going to allow [the city] to keep the vote from the people.”
City Attorney David Feldman told the Chronicle he “firmly believes” the case is better suited for a bench trial involving no jury but that he respects Schaffer’s decision.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker argued the case was ineligible for a jury trial under a state law declaring “election contests” can only be decided by a judge, the Chronicle reported. Plaintiffs countered that because there has been no election involving HERO, the lawsuit does not qualify as an “election contest.”
Within a few weeks of the ordinance’s May 2014 passage by the city council, a petition drive garnered more than 50,000 signatories demanding the controversial measure go before voters. Pastors, volunteers and paid personnel previewed 31,000 of the signatures for accuracy and submitted them to the city secretary’s office July 3. City Secretary Anna Russell had 30 days to certify the signatures and report her findings to the city council.
In an Aug. 1 letter to Parker and the council, Russell noted she had validated 17,826 signatures – more than enough to call an election on the issue. She had gleaned those numbers after inspecting only 19,177 signatures, resulting in a certification rate of 93 percent. But in the same letter, Russell stated that as a result of Feldman’s independent review of the petition pages, 2,750 of the 5,199 pages were declared ineligible for consideration. That left only 15,249 signatures for review, 2,000 short of the 17,269 needed to call a referendum.
Feldman’s actions, which opponents contend are not sanctioned by the city charter, disqualified valid signatures on the pages in question. The attorney, in an Aug. 4 letter to Russell, said his review of the petition revealed too many irregularities forcing him to declare pages invalid. Some of the irregularities cited by Feldman cannot be found in the city charter, such as illegible signatures by the petition circulator.
“Feldman did not have the legal authority to intervene with the validation and acted as judge, jury and executioner by declaring 2,750 entire petitions invalid due to his claim of technical problems,” Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, stated in an Aug. 7 press release.
Parker has been outspoken in her support of the ordinance and took its passage personally. As a lesbian in a long-term relationship with another woman, Parker said the ordinance was about her. It has received unwavering support from the LGBT community. But other Houston residents challenged the ordinance, calling it a threat to religious liberty. As has been the case in other cities, they fear local business owners will be forced to offer services in violation of their religious convictions or face a fine.
A trial date for the lawsuit is expected to be set next week.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

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1/16/2015 12:33:31 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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