January 2016

IMB discusses communications strategy

January 22 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The International Mission Board (IMB) will continue its longstanding practice of relying heavily on its overseas communications teams for missionary news stories, photos and videos following the closure of its Richmond Communications Center, a board spokeswoman told Baptist journalists on a Jan. 20 conference call.
From the outset, it was apparent the two groups of participants in the call had different goals. The three IMB staff members on the line – Julie McGowan, public relations leader; Terry Sharp, director for state, associational and urban mobilization strategies; and Terri Willis, director for national relations – sought to gather questions and information for IMB President David Platt in advance of a Feb. 16 meeting scheduled with leaders of state Baptist papers. McGowan noted the call was not a “press conference.” The journalists expected to ask questions and receive answers on the call. Some expressed their opinion that Baptists need additional information on IMB communications strategy before mid-February.
In an email exchange following the call, at least five Baptist state paper leaders noted their frustration at a perceived lack of information.
The Richmond Communications Center closure was announced Jan. 14. In making the announcement, Platt said 30 communications employees who were terminated in conjunction with the closure “are some of the kindest servants and leaders in the Richmond office. IMB is indebted to them on many levels. In the days to come, we want to express our honor and appreciation for the countless ways these brothers and sisters have served Christ through the IMB.” Please see related story.
McGowan said on the call IMB leaders and members of the Baptist media “will be working together to determine” a new communications strategy before April 29, when the Richmond communications office is scheduled to close.
A significant portion of the IMB’s communications strategy apparently will remain unchanged. McGowan said “some of the tasks that are currently done by the Richmond communications office will be done by the existing overseas communications offices.” She added, “A lot of content you currently get is worked in collaboration with our existing overseas communication teams.”
The board’s two overseas communications teams are based in Eurasia and Asia, with the Eurasia team primarily relaying news from IMB personnel in Europe and Africa and the Asia team reporting primarily on personnel in Asia.
In addition, IMB communications leaders “have talked some” with Baptist Press (BP) managing editor and director of operations Shawn Hendricks about developing a strategy for continued distribution of IMB news through BP, McGowan said.
Gary Ledbetter, editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN newsjournal, said state papers “have always appreciated the news coverage from the field and basically world-class photography that we get from the IMB.” Baptist journalists “expect it to continue.”
However, Ledbetter said members of the Southern Baptist media “have really needed ... help in understanding” IMB changes “in strategies and philosophies and missiological efforts.” He expressed concern, based in part on the call, that obtaining such information has seemed “difficult” – a concern echoed by others.
Among questions asked on the call that IMB was not yet prepared to answer:

  • What website or person will provide journalists with articles and photographs going forward?

  • Why has Platt not yet discussed communications cuts and strategy changes with members of the Baptist media?

  • Will Platt address the media before his meeting with state paper leaders Feb. 16?

  • Were IMB trustees informed of the Richmond Communications Center closure before it was announced?

  • What roles are served by communications personnel who were retained?

A question was also raised during the call about whether or not IMB trustees’ affirmation of the board’s change in strategy included a vote – a question that was addressed in an earlier BP story.
Despite the unanswered questions, state paper leaders expressed on multiple occasions during the call their support for the IMB and its leadership.
Allan Blume, editor of North Carolina’s Biblical Recorder, said he is “troubled” that Baptist journalists have not yet received “answers [on] the whole picture of what communications looks like,” but he noted he is “incredibly supportive and grateful for Dr. Platt’s leadership.”
As the IMB’s reset continues, McGowan asked Southern Baptists to pray for smooth transitions for those impacted by this strategic reset, remembering also those who have accepted the board’s “voluntary retirement incentive,” those considering the current “hand raising opportunity” to transition away from the IMB and IMB senior leadership.
Kevin Parker, editor of the Baptist New Mexican, closed the call by asking if he could pray for McGowan as she seeks to communicate changes in IMB strategy during a challenging period. Other participants in the call, including Lonnie Wilkey of Tennessee’s Baptist & Reflector, also expressed support for McGowan.
Parker prayed that God would help McGowan “to have extraordinary strength and wisdom and insight that she needs to gather information, to share information, to network people together.” He prayed Baptist journalists would “be as helpful to her as possible in that process.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/22/2016 1:30:48 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

2016 SBC Pastors’ Conference: ‘Live this!’

January 22 2016 by Bonnie Pritchett/Southern Baptist TEXAN

John Meador believes some pastors – and subsequently their congregations – have departed from the 2 Timothy 4:5-6 mandate, developing a “come and see” method for sharing the gospel instead of “go and tell.”
Meador, the president of the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Pastors’ Conference, said speakers at the June conference will dissect the New Testament obligation and exhort pastors to lead by example. The pastors’ conference, with the theme ‘Live this!,’ will meet June 12-13 at the America’s Center in St. Louis, Mo., prior to the SBC annual meeting.
“The main thing is for that text to be burned on their heart,” Meador, pastor of First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas, said in a telephone interview with the TEXAN. “That’s the New Testament mandate. I want everyone to be able to share.”
In 2 Timothy 4:5-6, the verse says, “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.
Pastors and churches have spent the last three decades moving away from a direct gospel conversation with the lost, Meador noted. While many theories for the shift have been proffered, he suspects Christians began to believe people didn’t want to talk about spiritual things and drifted from personal engagement with others about the gospel.
Meador said the situation is so dire in that some Christian parents do not even know how to share the gospel with their own children. But as pastors set the example of sharing the gospel in their personal lives their congregations will follow suit.
The speakers for the event, Meador noted, come from ministries and churches of all sizes from across the nation. Meador has organized the pastors’ conference as a mix of single speakers and a breakout session created to facilitate discussion among pastors of similar-sized churches. Six of the 11 pastors invited have confirmed they will preach at the conference.
James McDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago, will preach June 12 on “But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship...,” drawing from his own experience in overcoming difficulties.
June 13 will highlight “... do the work of an evangelist ...” with speakers David Platt, president Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, and Byron McWilliams, pastor First Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas.
Jack Graham, pastor Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, and Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research, will address “... fulfill your ministry ...” on Monday afternoon. Stetzer will unveil LifeWay’s latest research studying the question of what drives the most evangelistic churches.
Following Graham and Stetzer, the conference will break into smaller groups based on church size to give pastors an opportunity to discuss with panelists and their peers methods for enhancing evangelistic efforts in their communities.
Monday evening Jimmy Scroggins, pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., will address verse 6, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” Meador asked Scroggins, the pastor of a multi-generational and multi-ethnic congregation, to talk about “passing the baton” of evangelism to the next generation of pastors.
Meador is hoping to draw Millennial pastors to the conference to exhort them to press on. Social media will be used regularly to provide information and updates about the conference, which can be found on Twitter at @SBCPastorsConf, Facebook at facebook.com/SBCPastorsConference, and Instagram at SBCPASTORSCONF. The conference website, www.sbcpc.net, should be accessible by mid-February.
Meador has worked closely with SBC President Ronnie Floyd to ensure the pastors’ conference and annual meeting share a unified message. He encourages pastors and church members to arrive early to participate in Crossover St. Louis on June 11, a citywide evangelism effort organized by the North American Mission Board and Missouri Baptist Convention.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN at www.texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

1/22/2016 1:22:40 PM by Bonnie Pritchett/Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments

To love, not fear refugees focus of GC2 summit

January 22 2016 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Southern Baptist leaders were among about 550 evangelicals from a diversity of denominations at a summit Jan. 20 to pinpoint concrete ways Christians can spread the love of Christ at home and abroad amid a global crisis of 60 million refugees.
The Great Commandment, Great Commission Summit (GC2) convened 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at Community Christian Church in Napierville, Ill., moved weeks ago from its original location of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism (BGCE) at Wheaton College in Chicago to facilitate the large number of registrants.
Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research and a BGCE senior fellow, moderated the event that included video messages from International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt and Saddleback Church pastor Rick Warren, and comments from Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank S. Page.
Stetzer revealed preliminary results of a survey conducted Jan. 8-15 among Protestant pastors, in which 45 percent said their congregations fear refugees; 85 percent of pastors agreed that Christians have a responsibility to sacrificially care for refugees, and 68 percent of pastors believed the church can balance security with compassion. Regarding the Syrian refugee crisis in particular, a third of pastors surveyed have addressed the topic from the pulpit, Stetzer said the survey shows.


Photo by Jenn Ranter
LifeWay Research president Ed Stetzer moderated the Jan. 20 GC2 Summit, an interdenominational gathering of 550 evangelicals committed to love and help refugees that number 60 million globally.

In the largest and longest global refugee crisis in history, the world’s 60 million refugees are among 232 million migrants globally, Stephen Bauman, president and CEO of World Relief, told those assembled. Typically, refugees have exhausted all of their earthly resources, are saddled with insurmountable debt, lack the opportunity to earn a living, suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder and are hopeless. Most refugees living in camps will live the remainder of their lives there, leaders said.
“We are facing a critical moment as the church,” he said. “Will we acquiesce to fear, ignoring the facts and blaming the victims of war instead of its perpetrators? Or will we find courage within ourselves to honor the vision and values of our faith?”
In a video presented during lunch, Platt presented a “God-centered view” of the refugee crisis, extolling God’s sovereignty over all things and Satan’s sovereignty over nothing.
He told leaders to remember God oversees the movement of all people; God generally establishes government for the protection of people; God specifically commands His Church to provide for His people; and God seeks, shelters and showers the refugee with His grace. Platt exhorted leaders to serve refugees by speaking the gospel clearly, praying to God for help and guidance, acting justly, loving sacrificially and hoping confidently.
“God is sovereign over even suffering in this world,” Platt said. “There is coming a day when wars and crises will no longer exist.”
Among many other presenters were Wesleyan Church General Superintendent Jo Anne Lyon; World Vision President Rich Stearns; World Relief President Stephan Bauman; Bill Hybels, founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago; Christine Caine, founder of the A21 global anti-human trafficking campaign; John Azumah, a minister of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and professor of World Christianity and Islam at Columbia Theological Seminary, and Fayez Ishak, missions director Kasr El Dobara Evangelical Church in Cairo.
The summit included morning breakout sessions focusing on the role of the church in caring for refugees, the logistics and dynamics of refugee domestic resettlement, and a detailed update on the international refugee crisis itself. The afternoon presentations were livestreamed for those not in attendance and included talks, videos and personal testimonies encompassing the subjects of justice, Islam and ISIS, the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East, the Great Commission, justice fatigue, crisis leadership and the personal story of a refugee family.
Refugees on the international front can best be served by organized and cooperative groups that have resources already established where refugees are most populous, leaders were told.
Caine, who said she was abandoned at an Australian hospital by immigrant parents and later adopted by Egyptian refugees, captured the mood of the gathering by referencing the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37. The Levite and priest who passed by the robbery victim were no doubt respected leaders who considered themselves too busy to stop and help, she said, encouraging leaders to put love into practice.
“We are called to love the lost,” Caine said. “The church doesn’t run from the darkness; it runs to the darkness.”
In a stirring prayer between afternoon presentations, Page told the story of a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who photographed a starving child on her knees, too weak to walk to a feeding station less than 100 yards away, as a vulture patiently waited only steps behind her. When the journalist was later asked what happened to the child, he had no answer, and evidently had not stopped to help her.
“We have to save the girl,” Page said. “Let us do that we need to do to save the girl,” he prayed.
The BGCE, the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, LifeWay Research and World Vision co-sponsored the event, held a month after an ad-hoc group of more than 100 evangelicals drafted and signed a joint declaration on caring for refugees.
The “Christian Declaration on Caring for Refugees: An Evangelical Response” signed in December 2015, affirms six key beliefs:

  • Refugees possess the image of God and, as such, are infinitely valuable to God and to us.

  • We are commanded to love our neighbor, and it is our privilege to love refugees.

  • As Christians, we must care sacrificially for the refugee, the foreigner and the stranger.

  • We will motivate and prepare our churches and movements to care for refugees.

  • We will not be motivated by fear but by love for God and others.

  • Christians are called to grace-filled and humble speech about this issue.”

The statement is available at www.gc2summit.com/statement, and may be signed by supporters at www.gc2summit.com/signatures.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

1/22/2016 1:16:31 PM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Defend the Faith underscores privilege & duty

January 22 2016 by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS

The need for Christian apologetics – the clearing of obstacles to faith – has never been greater, attendees were told throughout the annual Defend the Faith conference, Jan. 4-8, at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS).
“Every age presents unique challenges to the Christian faith,” said Defend the Faith director Rhyne Putman, NOBTS assistant professor of theology and culture. “We face moral shifts in our culture, religious pluralism, other competing worldviews and assaults on religious liberty.”


Photo by Marilyn Stewart
Robert Stewart, director of New Orleans Seminary's Institute for Christian Apologetics, leads a session at the Jan. 4-8 Defend the Faith apologetics conference.

Sponsored by the seminary’s Institute for Christian Apologetics, the event was attended by more than 200 people, one-third of whom were college students from various states.
Plenary sessions were streamed via the Internet for the event and its messages to have an even wider reach. One current missionary in East Asia who watched the live-streamed sessions emailed one speaker to thank him for his candid portrayal of the difficulties facing those who engage a non-Christian culture.
Featured among more than two-dozen speakers were Douglas Groothuis, professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary; teaching fellow Jana Harmon with the C.S. Lewis Institute; resurrection scholar Gary Habermas; Paul Copan, noted author on current apologetic issues; and former International Mission Board worker Nik Ripken. Session topics included answering atheists’ objections; science and miracles; foundations of biblical inerrancy; engaging other worldviews; and arguments for God’s existence.
Apologetics – from the Greek word “apologia,” meaning “to defend” – addresses questions and objections raised by those outside the faith. “The NOBTS Institute for Christian Apologetics exists to train as many believers as possible to defend their faith as well as possible,” said Robert Stewart, Institute for Christian Apologetics director.
“Missions, evangelism, sound doctrine and apologetics go hand in hand,” Stewart said. “Apologetics is an essential ingredient of faithful biblical ministry. NOBTS is all-in when it comes to equipping believers to share and defend their faith.”

A ‘matchless gospel’

Groothuis, of Denver Seminary, pointed to 1 Peter 3:15 in identifying apologetics as a “tremendous privilege, opportunity and obligation.” Every believer can be prepared to defend the faith, he said.
“We ought to be in public and interpersonally engaging people with the matchless gospel of our Lord,” Groothuis said. “God can accommodate our mistakes. You don’t have to be a master of apologetic method to do apologetics.”
Believers can engage the culture with confidence because the gospel is “objectively true, compellingly rational and appropriate or existentially pertinent to the whole of life,” Groothuis said.


Photo by Marilyn Stewart
C. S. Lewis Institute teaching fellow Jana Harmon speaks at New Orleans Seminary's Defend the Faith conference about what she learned from interviewing former atheists who have now committed their lives to Christ.

“Take it to the streets,” Groothuis said, urging listeners to use their apologetic skills to lead others to Christ. “We all have opportunity in different spheres of life to be living witnesses, to be living sacrifices for the truth of the gospel.”
Groothuis told of talking to students at a secular university who listened politely as he discussed faith, but whose attention became rapt when he spoke of his wife’s struggle with a debilitating illness.
Honest reflection on suffering, as in Psalm 13, can be a form of apologetics, Groothuis said, when it is communicated that the Christian faith provides the best explanation of suffering and “the best tools to ‘suffer well.’”
“Out-think the world for Christ,” Groothuis urged. “Out-suffer the world for our Suffering Servant.”

When atheists turn to God

Harmon, of the C.S. Lewis Institute, told of her interviews with 50 former atheists who came to faith in Christ. Prior to conversion, none had perceived Christians as educated people, she said.
“Not a single one,” Harmon reiterated. “[Christians] have a PR problem.”
Despite the overwhelming perception of Christians as uneducated, Harmon said most of those interviewed embraced atheism for emotional reasons rather than intellectual ones.
Harmon pointed to the impact of relationships in an atheist coming to faith. “Eighty-two percent thought social interaction ‘softened’ them toward Christianity,” she said. “Sometimes, the love of God lived out through His people can turn a soul back to God.”

‘The most important thing’

Stewart warned listeners in referencing 1 Peter 3:15, that loving apologetics more than Jesus would be idolatry. The “most important thing” for an apologist is sanctifying Christ in one’s heart, he said.
“The only sufficient basis for apologetics is love for Christ as Lord in your heart,” Stewart said. “Love for ministry is not a good enough reason; love for people is not a good enough reason. The only sufficient basis for apologetics is love for Christ as Lord in your heart.”
Only love can win an audience for the gospel; only a gentle and respectful approach can lead people to Christ, Stewart said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Marilyn Stewart is a writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)

1/22/2016 1:04:44 PM by Marilyn Stewart, NOBTS | with 0 comments

Study: monthly porn exposure the norm for teens

January 21 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Half of teenagers and nearly three-quarters of young adults come across pornography at least monthly, and both groups on average consider viewing pornographic images less immoral than failing to recycle.
Those are among the findings of a survey of 2,700 Americans released Jan. 19 by Josh McDowell Ministry and the Barna Group. McDowell Ministry and the Internet accountability software provider Covenant Eyes paid approximately a quarter-million dollars to commission the online survey, McDowell told Baptist Press. The study also found porn use is on the rise among young women and that 14 percent of senior pastors surveyed “currently struggle with using porn.”
McDowell, a Christian author and speaker, said he is most concerned about the findings related to teens and young adults.
“What this study shows is that little by little, porn is becoming more acceptable, more ‘spiritually okay’” among teenagers and adults ages 18-24, McDowell said. With pornography “so accessible now and becoming more accessible, it’s going to become more mainstream.”
Part of the problem is that children’s first exposure to porn is coming earlier than in previous generations, according to the study. Some 27 percent of 25-30-year-olds say they first viewed pornography before puberty. In contrast, only 13 percent of adults from Generation X, the group just ahead of them in age, first viewed porn before puberty.
Exposure to porn apparently increases in the teenage years. Even if they aren’t actively seeking pornography, 8 percent of teens responding to the survey say they encounter it daily. An additional 21 percent encounter it weekly, and another 21 percent encounter it at least once a month. Among young adults, 16 percent come across porn daily, an additional 32 percent weekly and another 23 percent monthly.
Intentionally seeking pornography is a daily activity for 8 percent of teens, the study found – the same percentage who say they encounter it daily whether they seek it or not. An additional 18 percent seek porn weekly, and 17 percent more do so monthly. That translates to 43 percent of teens seeking porn at least monthly.
Among adults ages 18-24, 57 percent seek porn at least monthly, the report noted, while forty-five percent of adults ages 25-30 seek porn monthly.
The most common reason people of all age groups said they use porn is “for personal arousal,” according to the study. Teens and young adults cite “boredom” and “curiosity” as the next two most popular reasons for porn use.
Though many discussions of pornography focus on men, Barna’s research found 56 percent of women ages 13-24 “actively seek out porn” at least once a month. That compares with 28 percent of women 25 and older.
McDowell said porn use among teen girls and women is increasing “faster than men.” Many women use porn in attempt to “save” their marriages, he said, adding teen girls use porn to keep or attract boyfriends.
The survey yielded some positive news about pastors. A full 79 percent of youth pastors and 86 percent of senior pastors said they do not currently struggle with using porn.


While there is no “single silver bullet” to reduce porn use, McDowell said, pastors and other Christian leaders must play a major role in addressing the issue. He and Covenant Eyes are hosting a Set Free Global Summit April 4-7 in Greensboro, N.C., to unveil the full results of the study and discuss various facets of pornography use with Christian leaders.
Pastors can help families by teaching about pornography and biblical sexual ethics, McDowell said, and families can help their children by teaching them in age-appropriate ways the biblical model of sexuality by age 6 or 7, just prior to the average first exposure to pornography.
“Pastors and the church need to help parents create such a loving, intimate, safe home environment that [a] child is totally free and comfortable to ask mommy and daddy anything without shame, without judgment,” McDowell said.
He suggested that churches and ministries move away from “one strike and you’re out” policies regarding porn use by staff members. Any ministry leader who is unrepentant about porn use must be fired, McDowell said, but those who admit their sin and covenant to stop completely should be given opportunities to keep their positions and seek help. Policies of immediate termination “drive [porn use] underground,” he said.
Jay Dennis, a leader of Southern Baptists’ anti-pornography initiative, commended McDowell for “the passion, excellence and experience he brings to addressing culture’s number one issue.”
Barna’s study “gives us valuable insight into the impact of pornography on teenagers and older children,” Dennis, co-sponsor of the Join One Million Men campaign, said in written comments. “With more relevant statistical information, we can better communicate the problem. With these statistics, we can qualify what we have suspected: that pornography use is increasing and is becoming normalized. This survey says to every pastor, ‘Wake up!’”
To help the 93 percent of pastors whose churches, the survey found, do not have programs to help those struggling with porn use, Dennis said Join One Million Men will soon publish four new resources, including one for teens and another for parents of teens.
Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla., is scheduled to speak at McDowell’s April anti-pornography summit.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/21/2016 11:32:16 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Immigration: SCOTUS takes up Obama’s executive orders

January 21 2016 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to rule on the legality of executive orders by President Barack Obama that would delay deportation of more than 4 million undocumented immigrants.
Issued in November 2014, the orders sought to allow undocumented persons who are parents of U.S. citizens or of lawful permanent residents to apply for work authorization and associated benefits. Texas and 25 other Republican-led states sued to invalidate the program, arguing the president does “possess enforcement discretion” but lacks “inherent power to grant lawful presence and eligibility for over four million unauthorized aliens,” Texas said in a brief.
A federal judge sided with Texas and the other suing states, and the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld the decision. The high court, which announced Jan. 19 its intention to take up the case, is expected to rule by early summer, according to CNN.
The nine justices asked both sides to address whether Obama’s actions violate the Constitution’s provision that the president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said the administration is “pleased that the Supreme Court has decided to review the immigration case.” She expressed confidence the court will rule in favor of “immigrants who want to be held accountable, to work on the books, to pay taxes and to contribute to our society openly and honestly,” the Journal reported.
Southern Baptists, mirroring the rest of the nation, differ on the proper balance between security and compassion in immigration policy. The last time the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) spoke to immigration was 2011, when a resolution “on immigration and the gospel” called for both compassion to immigrants and border security. Messengers to the SBC annual meeting in Phoenix that year adopted the resolution by what Baptist Press estimated at the time as a 70-80 percent majority.
The resolution noted that “our Lord Jesus Christ lived His childhood years as an immigrant and refugee” and highlighted scripture’s admonitions “to show compassion and justice for the sojourner and alien among us.” The statement also “ask[ed] our governing authorities to prioritize efforts to secure the borders.”
A motion to amend the resolution by striking its call for “a just and compassionate path to legal status” was defeated by a 51-48 margin. Messengers did amend the resolution, at the suggestion of the SBC Resolutions Committee, to state, “This resolution is not to be construed as support for amnesty for any undocumented immigrant.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/21/2016 11:26:42 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

GuideStone tax guide being released in 2 phases

January 21 2016 by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources

GuideStone Financial Resources’ tax guide for churches and ministers is being released in two phases for 2016, the Southern Baptist entity announced Jan. 19.
The Federal Reporting Requirements for Churches section is available now at GuideStone.org/Tax Guide. This section details filing requirements for Forms W-2 and 1099 as well as a brief section on filing requirements many churches will face as part of the Affordable Care Act.
The remainder of the annual 2016 Tax Return Preparation and Federal Reporting Guide, Ministers’ Tax Guide for 2015 Returns, with its step-by-step filing instructions of personal ministers’ taxes, will be available online by the end of January.
GuideStone participants can receive the free guide by visiting GuideStone.org/TaxGuide or can request a free printed copy by calling 1-888-98-GUIDE (1-888-984-8433).
The guide was written again this year by Richard Hammar, a noted CPA, attorney and widely published author who specializes in legal and tax issues for ministers. Additionally, the material is edited by GuideStone’s staff to ensure that it addresses, in detail, tax issues directly affecting Southern Baptist pastors.
“Each year, we hear from so many pastors and other ministers about the help the Ministers’ Tax Guide is for them and their families as they navigate tax filing, either on their own or alongside their tax preparer,” GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins said. “It is a joy to hear from so many pastors who tell us how thankful they are for this guide and how much it helps them. This free guide is part of the ministry of GuideStone, and we are pleased to bring it to our participants.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Roy Hayhurst is department head of denominational and public relations services for GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

1/21/2016 11:22:12 AM by Roy Hayhurst, GuideStone Financial Resources | with 0 comments

Relocation of Golden Gate campuses moving forward

January 21 2016 by Kathie Chute, GGBTS

Construction is progressing rapidly at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary’s two new campuses, and more than 40 new jobs have been posted on the seminary’s website, President Jeff Iorg reported in mid-January.
Iorg, speaking to the seminary’s staff and students, said the new campus in Ontario, Calif., is still on target for the June 2016 move from Mill Valley even though there have been minor setbacks.


File photo
Golden Gate Seminary, for its new home in Southern California, is renovating a six-story building constructed in 2009 but vacant ever since due to the economic downturn.

“We have faced the inevitable challenges associated with any major building project,” Iorg said of the Ontario site in Southern California. “However, we still don’t anticipate any delays for our move this coming summer.”
Construction also is in progress at the new Bay Area campus in Fremont, Calif., he said, noting that a three-month delay in obtaining a building permit this past summer and a rainy winter in the Bay Area mean the facility will not likely be ready until year’s end.
“The Bay Area campus will open in August 2016 but its first location will be on the current Golden Gate Seminary campus in Mill Valley,” Iorg said Jan. 14. “We anticipate moving the Bay Area campus to the new Fremont location in January 2017.”
Iorg said a final timetable for opening the Bay Area campus will be determined by June.
More than 40 new positions at the campuses in Ontario and the Bay Area have been posted on the seminary’s website. Some will be hired in the next few weeks as offices for the Bay Area campus open, while others will be effective later this spring as preparations intensify to open in Ontario. Job descriptions for all the new positions are available at www.ggbts.edu/careers.
Iorg also announced several closure events for the Mill Valley location that are open to all alumni and friends. These include the President’s Convocation on Feb. 4; Missions Conference Alumni Dinner, Feb. 11, followed by the Missions Conference featuring Thom Wolf, Feb. 12-13; Academic Convocation, March 10, led by President Emeritus William O. Crews; and Spring Commencement, May 20, which will include an alumni luncheon that day. Detailed information about these events is available at www.ggbts.edu.
Golden Gate Seminary began its relocation after the sale of its main campus in Mill Valley in 2014 and the subsequent purchase of new sites in Ontario and Fremont. The seminary also is on track for changing its name to Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention, slated for a final vote by messengers to this June’s SBC annual meeting in St. Louis.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kathie Chute is director of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.)

1/21/2016 11:14:21 AM by Kathie Chute, GGBTS | with 0 comments

Saeed Abedini released from Iranian prison

January 20 2016 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor & Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

American pastor Saeed Abedini and three other prisoners have been released from prison in Iran, according to news reports. Abedini was detained in 2012 and given an eight-year prison sentence for organizing house churches.
The release comes as part of a prisoner swap coinciding with the Jan. 16 implementation of a nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers brokered in July 2015. The U.S. has released seven Iranian-Americans charged with violating sanctions, according to an Iranian news agency.
Naghmeh Abedini, Saeed’s wife, rejoiced on her Facebook page shortly after news reports came in: “It is confirmed: Saeed is released!”
She is expected to meet him in Germany, according to news reports released Jan. 19, where his health was being assessed after his release from a three-and-a-half-year imprisonment.
Naghmeh Abedini was preparing to fly to Germany for a reunion before his return to their Boise, Idaho, home, she said in a Jan. 17 telephone interview on FOX News.
“We are ready to welcome him home. I’m getting ready to fly out to Germany to be able to see him, and the kids are really excited because they are making welcome home signs,” she said. “There’s a lot of readjustment and a lot of healing that needs to happen. It’s time for our family to heal and to move forward.”
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) lobbied extensively for Abedini’s release, which was announced the morning of Jan. 16, but had been considered imminent for two months, ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow said in a video on the ACLJ website. In a conversation with Sekulow, the pastor expressed thanks for his release.
“I cannot underscore enough how grateful he is for the tireless efforts of the millions of people who prayed and spoke out for his freedom over the last nearly three-and-a-half years,” Sekulow said of Abedini. “In a phone call from a U.S. military hospital in Germany where he’s being treated, Pastor Saeed thanked our entire ACLJ team and the more than 1.1 million ACLJ members who worked to secure his freedom, saying, ‘May God bless you for everything you did.’”
Abedini was still receiving medical treatment in Germany, the ACLJ said in written comments Jan. 19, and the expected date of his return to the U.S. was not disclosed. In Naghmeh Abedini’s latest Facebook posts prior to her departure for Germany, she spoke of her husband’s health.
“I am talking to Saeed right now,” she posted at 3:39 p.m. Jan. 17. “He is doing well. Thank you all for your prayers.” Abedini had already landed in Germany, via Geneva, Switzerland, his wife noted.
She spoke with President Barack Obama a couple hours earlier.
“President Obama just ... called [me] moments ago and congratulated our family on Saeed’s release!” she wrote just after 1 p.m. “We had met with President Obama last year and he had promised that getting Saeed out of Iran was a high priority for him. I could see his love and compassion as he spoke last year and again today. I am thankful for our President and all of the hard work by the White House and the State Department in making this happen.”
The Obama administration secured the release of Abedini and three other Americans in a prison swap amidst nuclear disarmament negotiations. In turn, the U.S. is granting clemency to six Iranian-Americans and one Iranian serving sentences or awaiting trial in the U.S., President Obama announced.
Obama praised Abedini for his sacrifice.
“His unyielding faith has inspired our people around the world in the global fight to uphold freedom of religion,” Obama said. “Now Pastor Abedini will return to his church and community in Idaho.”
Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, U.S. Marine veteran Amir Hekmati of Flint, Mich., and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari were also released, although Khosravi-Roodsari has chosen to remain in Iran, NBC News reported. Released independently of the prisoner exchange was Matthew Trevithick, a Boston University graduate studying Farsi in Tehran, who has already arrived at his home in Hingham, Mass., according to NBC.
The release of Abedini and the other Americans was the result of prayer and the Lord’s intervention, Sekulow noted.
“We want to rejoice that the Lord has set these individuals free,” Sekulow said. “At the end of the day, this was a move of God, because so many circumstances had to line up correctly for this to happen, and it did. And that’s not humans doing that; that is the Lord and we were just instruments to do our part.”
Naghmeh Abedini, who was in the midst of a 21-day fast modeled after the fast of the biblical prophet Daniel when her husband was released, thanked supporters for their help.
“Thank you for having stood with our family during this difficult journey,” she wrote on Facebook. “Thank you Jesus for being with us during the difficulties of life and bringing people who help us bear them. One battle has been won of [sic] Saeed’s freedom. There are many more difficult battles and a hard road ahead.”
She has advocated widely for her husband’s release, maintaining a Facebook page, meeting with President Obama, and speaking before Congress and in many venues before taking a break from public advocacy this past November.
The pastor had been sentenced Jan. 27, 2013 on charges he threatened national security by planting house churches in Iran years earlier, and had been under house arrest since July 2012.
(EDITOR’S NOTES – This story was compiled by reports from Seth Brown, content editor for the Biblical Recorder, and Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press.)

Related articles:

Naghmeh Abedini: Tie Saeed’s release to Iran deal
Abedini beating intensifies calls for release
Naghmeh Abedini suspends public life, cites marriage woes

1/20/2016 11:45:28 AM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor & Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Trump at Liberty Univ.: ‘I’m big with evangelicals’

January 20 2016 by Brandon Pickett, SBC of Virginia

More than 10,000 Liberty students packed into the university’s Vines Center on Jan. 18 to hear Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr. introduced Trump at a convocation on the first day of the spring semester. Trump also addressed a convocation in 2012.


Photo by Brandon Pickett
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, addressing a Jan. 18 convocation at Liberty University, tells capacity crowd, “Christianity is under attack. But we are going to protect Christianity.”

Falwell told the students that while the university wasn’t officially endorsing the New York businessman, Trump is a caring man who is politically incorrect and reminded him of his father, Jerry Falwell Sr. – which Trump said was the best compliment of all.
Falwell quoted Matthew 7:16 (“You will know them by their fruits....”) and said people can know who someone really is because of what he has done in the past.
Meanwhile, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, used Trump’s address at Liberty to reiterate and amplify his concerns about Trump’s candidacy, both on Twitter and in two subsequent CNN interviews.
Trump began his speech at Liberty by saying he is proud of being a Protestant, “a Presbyterian to be exact.”
“Evangelicals love me – I’m big with evangelicals,” Trump said.
“There’s nothing like the Bible,” he said.
He then told the crowd that “Christianity is under attack. But we are going to protect Christianity.”
Trump tried to quote the university’s theme verse, 2 Corinthians 3:17: “... where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” But he was met with some laughter when he said, “I hear this is a major theme right here. But two Corinthians, right?” diverting from a conventional reference to “second Corinthians.”
“Two Corinthians 3:17. That’s the whole ballgame,” Trump said.


Photo by Brandon Pickett
Hitting on his major stump speech themes, Donald Trump spoke on immigration, the military, Iran and trade deficits in a Jan. 18 convocation at Liberty University.

With the international press looking on, there were a few protestors outside the Vines Center in Lynchburg, Va., but inside, students like Noah Soistmann, a freshman, said he was excited Donald Trump was there.
“I’m glad that we get to experience the political speakers that come. We should be able to accept all points of view and filter them out through a biblical worldview on our own. We can show what true Christians are like when they hear different opinions and that’s a good testimony.”
Rebekah Leybold, a junior at Liberty, has seen various political speakers in her time at Liberty. “A number of students are protesting because they didn’t want him to come,” she said, because it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the protesters claim Trump has racist views. “But I feel we should be respectful toward whoever comes,” Leybold said, “and we should not make a big deal out of things.”
Trump hit on his major stump speech themes of immigration, the military, Iran, trade deficits and winning on deals around the world.
He ended his speech by telling the students that “we have to run it [the country] like a business, but with heart.”
After leaving the stage to a cheering crowd, Trump worked the rope line and left Lynchburg bound for New Hampshire.
Republican presidential contender Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas announced his presidential bid at Liberty on March 23 of last year. Also speaking at convocations last year were Republican contender and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson on Nov. 11 and Democratic contender Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Sept. 14.
Moore, on CNN’s “Out Front” telecast, commended Liberty for hosting candidates “from across the spectrum” and noted that “some of the greatest leaders that I know in the country are Liberty graduates.”
But, voicing some of his months-long opposition to Trump, Moore described the New York businessman as “someone who has broken up two households, by his own admission, with scandalous results [the subject of one of his tweets]; someone who has been involved in the casino gambling industry all of his life, preying upon poor people and breaking up families; someone who has been using racially charged rhetoric all through this campaign against people who are my brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Moore said he wants someone in the White House “who has personal character. One of the things evangelical Christians have been saying for 50 years is that character matters. If character matters for Bill Clinton, and it does, and it did, then character matters for Donald Trump, and to dismiss that is unbelievable.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brandon Pickett is associate executive director of the SBC of Virginia and editor of the convention’s missions magazine, Proclaimer at sbcv.org/proclaimer. Art Toalston, editor of Baptist Press, contributed to this article.)

1/20/2016 11:36:05 AM by Brandon Pickett, SBC of Virginia | with 0 comments

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