January 2017

‘Life is winning,’ VP Pence says at March for Life

January 31 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Vice President Mike Pence declared “life is winning again in America” in his historic appearance Jan. 27 before a massive March for Life crowd that included a contingent of Southern Baptists attending the Evangelicals for Life conference.

Screen capture from Fox News
Vice President Mike Pence became the first U.S. president or vice president to speak at the annual March for Life in Washington Jan. 27. If pro-lifers show compassion and gentleness, “I believe that we will continue to win the hearts and minds of the rising generation,” he said.

Sworn in as vice president only a week before, Pence became the first person holding that office to speak in person at the March for Life in its 44-year history. No president has ever appeared at the annual event.
Pence’s appearance – as well as promises and actions by the new Trump administration – seemed to provide a heightened level of optimism among the marchers. President Trump had signed an executive order Jan. 23 to reinstate a ban on federal funds for international organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas. He also had promised during the election campaign to work to defund Planned Parenthood and to enact a permanent, government-wide ban on federal funding of abortions, something the House of Representatives voted to do Jan. 24. Trump also is expected to announce a pro-life nominee to the Supreme Court Jan. 31.
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said he again was honored to march with pro-life Americans and urged evangelical Christians to become more involved in the event.
“This is an important moment each year for advocates of human dignity, and our gathering this year sent another message to Washington and beyond that unborn life matters,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “I’m thankful for this generation’s stand for life, and my prayer is that what this march stands for will soon not be known as a movement, but as a consensus.”
Moore told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments, “It’s imperative for evangelical Christians to be part of this march. We are, after all, committed to the Good News of everlasting life. We should march to show that every life has dignity and also that Jesus offers forgiveness for every sin, freely offered to everyone, no matter what he or she has done.”
Roman Catholics have been the main force behind and the primary participants in the March for Life since its beginning in 1974, one year after the Supreme Court legalized abortion throughout the country in the Roe v. Wade decision Jan. 22, 1973. The ERLC and Focus on the Family have sought to increase evangelical participation in the march the last two years, co-hosting the three-day Evangelicals for Life conference around the event and making time in the schedule for attendees to take part in the march.

Photo by Josh Shank, Rocket Republic
Staff of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Focus on the Family, and others, gather for the March for Life Jan. 27 in the midst of the Evangelicals for Life conference.

A Southern Baptist, first-time participant in the March for Life also expressed a desire for more evangelicals to be involved.
Brenda Richards, an Evangelicals for Life attendee and a member of Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C., said she had not previously realized Catholics “have been carrying the torch for [the march] and putting it in the public eye, and it made me just appreciate the fact that they’ve been standing in the gap all these years. And it also made me want to encourage more of us in the evangelical world to come along beside them in this area in a stronger way.”
Her first March for Life was “very special, especially because I felt a lot of enthusiasm and excitement, feeling like the tide may have turned because as a nation [we have] become more pro-life focused now,” Richards told BP.
In his speech at the pre-march rally, Pence told the crowd gathered on the grounds of the Washington Monument, “[B]ecause of all of you, and the many thousands that stand with us in marches like this all across the nation, life is winning again in America.”
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, also spoke of the hope among pro-life Americans.
“This is a new day, a new dawn for life,” she said at the March for Life rally, adding it is “a time of incredible promise” for the pro-life movement.
Pence urged pro-lifers to be compassionate toward all Americans.
“We have come to an historic moment in the cause for life, and we must meet this moment with respect and compassion for every American,” said Pence, a former congressman and a former governor of Indiana.
He quoted a Bible verse in encouraging the pro-life movement to demonstrate “respect for the dignity and worth of every person.”
“[A]s it is written, ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all,’” Pence said, quoting Phil. 4:5. “Let this movement be known for love, not anger. Let this movement be known for compassion, not confrontation. When it comes to matters of the heart, there is nothing stronger than gentleness.
“I believe that we will continue to win the hearts and minds of the rising generation if our hearts first break for young mothers and their unborn children, and if we, each of us, do all we can to meet them where they are with generosity, not judgment,” he said.
Eric Metaxas, evangelical author and radio talk-show host, said at the rally, “[W]e pray that this message of love and forgiveness would get out to the women of America – that the God of the Bible and everyone who follows Him loves those women who have made this tragic choice and want to extend the love of Jesus to those women.”
He also decried the ruling that legalized abortion.
“Roe v. Wade is fake law,” Metaxas told an often-cheering crowd.
“Roe v. Wade is anti-science,” he said. “The science today more and more and more and more … says that is a person in the womb.”
Also speaking at the rally were three Republican members of Congress – Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Reps. Mia Love of Utah and Chris Smith of New Jersey. Many other congressional members also appeared on the stage as they spoke.
Other speakers included Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson and former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson, who was accompanied by others who have left the abortion business.
After the rally, the crowd – which may have numbered in the hundreds of thousands – marched on Constitution Avenue from the Washington Monument to the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/31/2017 11:14:06 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Trump immigration order draws protests, support

January 31 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Following President Trump’s executive order temporarily limiting travel from seven Muslim-majority nations, Southern Baptists reasserted their commitment to seek a balance between compassion and national security in immigration policy.

CNN screen capture

Among Southern Baptist leaders to respond to Trump’s order and ensuing protests across America were Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, Executive Committee President Frank S. Page and former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Bryant Wright.
Also weighing in on the controversy were pastor Robert Jeffress of Dallas, a vocal Trump supporter, and Mokhles Hanna, pastor of an Atlanta-area Arab congregation whose 20-25 Iraqi and Syrian members are “so concerned” about the order’s potential effects.
Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order called for a review of the U.S.’s process for admitting foreigners and suspended travel from seven specific nations for 90 days “to ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists or criminals.”
The seven countries affected by the 90-day ban are not specifically named in the executive order and are referenced by their inclusion in 2015 legislation flagging nations of particular concern. They are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The order explicitly bans “refugees” from Syria “until such time” as Trump determines “that sufficient changes have been made” in refugee screening processes “to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.”
Persecuted religious minorities will be prioritized when the admission of refugees commences, according to the order. Despite the travel ban, the secretaries of state and homeland security are granted authority to admit refugees from the seven affected nations “on a case-by-case basis.”
The Trump administration said Jan. 30 that lawful U.S. permanent residents from the seven countries will be allowed to reenter the U.S., according to media reports. The previous day, a federal judge temporarily banned deportation of individuals from the seven nations.

‘Concerns’ & immigrant ministries

Moore sent a letter to Trump Jan. 30 acknowledging a need to balance “security of our citizens” with “compassion for the sojourner.”
The letter expressed “concerns about the Executive Order’s consequences,” including potential “diplomatic fallout with the Muslim world, putting Southern Baptists serving in these countries in grave danger and preventing them from serving refugees and others who are in need with humanitarian assistance and the love of the gospel.”
Moore called the Trump administration to:

  • “Clarify ... the extent of the Executive Order to resolve the status of green card holders, Iraqi military interpreters and other ambiguities;
  • “Implement additional screening measures in order that the Refugee Admission Program may be resumed as soon as possible, including for refugees from Syria;
  • “Work to ensure the safety of Americans serving in majority-Muslim countries and to preserve their ability to continue serving the ‘least of these’ in the region; and
  • “Affirm your administration’s commitment to religious freedom and the inalienable human dignity of persecuted people, whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Yazidi or other, and adjust the Executive Order as necessary.”

Page said in written comments to Baptist Press (BP) that “Southern Baptists have spoken on numerous occasions regarding immigration.”
“We always support the rule of law and have always encouraged the protection of our citizens,” Page said. “With that being said, let me be very clear: Southern Baptists have always reached out to those who are on our shores and will continue to minister in Jesus’ name to all who are around us.”
“Disagreements” about specific government policies “surely will” continue, Page said “but the need for ministry, outreach and witness will continue to be at the forefront of who we are.”
SBC resolutions referenced immigration at least 10 times between 1846 and 2016, consistently advocating compassionate ministry (as in an 1846 call to regard a “mighty tide” of immigrants “with solemn interest”) and national security (as in a 1949 admonition for the government to observe “due care” in admitting “individuals friendly to our form of government and likely to become good citizens”).
Most recently, a 2016 resolution “on refugee ministry” “encourage[d] Southern Baptists to minister care, compassion and the gospel to refugees who come to the United States.” The resolution also “call[ed] on the governing authorities to implement the strictest security measures possible in the refugee screening and selection process, guarding against anyone intent on doing harm.”
Since 1935, SBC Annuals have reported on ministries to refugees, displaced people or immigrants in all but three or four years, according to research by the Executive Committee.
Amid reaction to Trump’s executive order, CBS’s “60 Minutes” re-aired a segment from October 2016 about the ministry to Syrian refugees of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.
Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry, told BP he understands government’s responsibility to protect citizens and that Trump “is fulfilling a campaign promise.” But “for us to close the door” on admitting refugees from regions in humanitarian crisis is “very disappointing.”
There was already “a very thorough vetting process” for individuals from the seven countries designated in Trump’s order, Wright said.
Offering “humanitarian help” to refugees “gives us an opportunity like we’ve never had before to share the gospel of Christ with people we just haven’t been able to get to,” Wright said.

Other pastors react

Hanna, pastor of Arabic Baptist Church in Lilburn, Ga., told BP that members of the congregation have been affected by Trump’s order. Families from Syria who were anticipating the arrival of other family members “are very sad and upset” that their reunions have been at least postponed.
“I totally understand what President Trump is trying to do,” said Hanna, an American citizen who emigrated from Egypt in 2006 to flee religious persecution. But “I wish [the administration] would look at situations case by case.”
Hanna added he likes Trump’s “idea of giving top priority to [religious] minorities” because the Obama administration seemed to limit immigration of persecuted religious minorities. Hanna hopes “second priority” will be given to families with sick or disabled children.
The conservative publication National Review reported that just 77 (.5 percent) of the 13,210 Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S. in 2016 were Christians although followers of Christ comprised approximately 10 percent of Syria’s population in 2015.
Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said churches and individual Christians are commanded in scripture “to minister to those in need.” Yet “those who label President Trump’s new immigration policy as ‘unchristian’ and ‘discriminatory’ fail to understand the God-given role of government” to protect citizens.
“President Trump is suspending immigration into our country based on country of origin, not religion,” Jeffress said in written comments.
Trump “is right to give preference to persecuted religious minority refugees from Muslim countries like Syria,” Jeffress, who is a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board, added. He noted that in a personal conversation “several weeks ago,” the president “expressed genuine concern for the 90,000 Christians who were martyred for their faith in 2016.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/31/2017 11:12:30 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Students to receive WMU aid after tornado

January 31 2017 by Janis Ezell, WMU

Children of missionaries (MKs) and international students attending tornado-ravaged William Carey University in Mississippi are being assisted by a $5,000 HEART (Humanitarian Emergency Aid for Rebuilding Tomorrow) Fund grant from national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) and the WMU Foundation.
The HEART grant will be used to purchase gift cards for each of the 30 MKs as well as international students affected by the tornado’s Jan. 21 devastation at the university in Hattiesburg.
“My first thought after witnessing the vast destruction in my community was that the HEART Fund was there for just such a crisis as this,” said Linda Donnell, WMU Foundation board member and Mississippi regional coordinator for Christian Women’s Job Corps/Christian Men’s Job Corps, a ministry of WMU.
The tornado killed at least four people as it crossed several counties including Harrison County where the Baptist-affiliated William Carey University is located.
Donnell said she was particularly concerned for the MKs and international students who are so far from home.
“I am hoping that attention can be directed toward their needs,” Donnell said.
“This grant will have a huge impact on their lives,” said Cindy Townsend, executive director of Mississippi WMU and member of the WMU Foundation board of trustees.
Linda Cooper, national WMU president, stated, “My prayer is that the lives of those affected will see the love of Jesus in our grant, for He is the source of our every need.”
In the midst of the destruction, Donnell hopes the victims will not get discouraged.
“I pray that they will not lose hope for a better tomorrow,” she said.
The WMU Foundation is accepting donations to the HEART Fund for disaster relief online at wmufoundation.com or by mail to WMU Foundation HEART Fund, 100 Missionary Ridge, Birmingham, AL 35242.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Janis Ezell is a marketing assistant for the WMU Foundation.)

1/31/2017 11:12:03 AM by Janis Ezell, WMU | with 0 comments

Evangelicals for Life speakers promote ‘womb to tomb’ dignity

January 31 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The sanctity and dignity of human life require Christians to care not only for the unborn but for all people at all stages of life, speakers said on the final two days of the Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington.

Photo by Josh Shank, Rocket Republic
Poet Jackie Hill Perry speaks on diversity Jan. 28 in the final address of the Evangelicals for Life conference.

The phrase “the womb to the tomb” was heard during several addresses to describe the extent of the sanctity of human life and to call for protection and compassionate care from evangelical Christians.
Evangelicals for Life (EFL) – the second annual event co-hosted by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family – addressed such issues as adoption and foster care, ministry to refugees and immigrants, caring for the sick and dying, public policies to protect life and diversity in the church.
The Jan. 26-28 conference – held in conjunction with the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. – broke midday Jan. 27 for attendees to join what turned out to be possibly hundreds of thousands of others on the National Mall for a rally and the march to Capitol Hill.
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told conference participants God “created a world in which human flourishing was His intention,” but today there are “across so many fronts so many assaults” on human life and dignity.
“We are missing the fact that a consistent pro-life ethic requires us to see that anything that diminishes life as the Creator intended it [for His] creatures is an assault upon God’s glory and God’s sovereignty and God’s will,” Mohler said.
Christians’ responsibility “to be the defenders of life cannot be localized in the buildings of government but has to be taken into every local church and every Christian heart, translated not only into right thought but right action,” he said.
Seattle pastor Eugene Cho told EFL attendees evangelicals should support the sanctity of life “from womb to tomb, not just our lives but their lives, not just American lives but Syrian lives, not just Christian ... lives but Muslim minority refugee lives.”

Photo by Josh Shank, Rocket Republic
Travis Wussow, left, ERLC vice president for public policy, moderates a Jan. 27 panel on ministry to refugees and immigrants at Evangelicals for Life.

Christians should seek justice for all human beings because it “reflects the very character of God,” Cho said. “We need to be awakened to the injustices in our world.”
In the conference’s final address, poet Jackie Hill Perry said Christians should repent as the first step in developing a heart for seeing beauty in diversity. They need to repent of pride and fear, she said.
“We have sinned against people when we have spoken to them, judged them, looked upon them, thought about them or treated them in a dishonorable way because of the color of their skin, the language that they speak or the culture they embody,” Hill Perry told attendees. “And these sins against people are first and foremost sins against God.”
She warned Christians against seeing their “race or culture as the standard.”
“We must turn from this pride and see that Christ is the standard of goodness and beauty; we are not,” Hill Perry said.
She urged conference participants to invite people from different ethnic groups into their hearts.
“Do you have an affection for every tribe, tongue and nation? Or is the work of diversity only a duty? It was in God’s will to invite every tribe, tongue and nation into His love, and I beg you to make it a part of yours,” Hill Perry said.
Other conference speakers addressed a variety of issues during the event.
John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, said civility demonstrates respect for the dignity of those on the opposite side of issues.
“Civility has nothing to do with reciprocity. In other words, we’re not civil to people because they’re civil to us,” he said.
Also, Stonestreet said, “Civility is not a strategy. We’re not civil because it works.
“Civility is an expectation of anyone living out of the grand story of redemption” in scripture, he said. “We do it because it’s right. We do it whether it works or not.”
A panel discussion on ministry to refugees and immigrants came only a few hours after President Trump signed an executive order halting the refugee resettlement program for 120 days and blocking refugees from war-torn Syria indefinitely.
Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., and past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Johnson Ferry now is responsible for nine Muslim refugee families from Syria and one Christian family from Iran.
“It has been a rich blessing to Johnson Ferry,” he said, adding the church has a different role than the government. “We’re to share the love of Christ with all of our fellow man.”
The ministry has given the church “the opportunity to witness in a rich way,” he said, adding of his church’s involvement with refugees, “We get our guidance from the Word of God, not from talk radio, not from different political winds that are blowing.”
On the conference’s first night, Jan. 26, Matt Chandler, lead pastor for teaching of The Village Church in the Dallas area, urged churches to not miss the opportunity they have as the nations come to them.
“The church must not buy into the fearful rhetoric around refugees, but be willing to welcome, to help, to come alongside and to serve,” he said.
Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, shared about being a foster child and now doing foster care with his family.
“Everybody needs love and acceptance,” he said. “It is such a beautiful thing to do. ... You look for a field white unto harvest. You don’t have to go very far. Is it easy? No, but God has not called you to easiness.”
A Jan. 28 panel addressed the need to foster human dignity among the sick and dying.
C. Ben Mitchell, a bioethicist and provost at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said the church has a long history of helping people die well, but now has “outsourced death. We don’t do a very good job of caring for the dying.”
“I think churches are going to have to become more invested in hospice, and that may mean starting your own church-based hospice program to partner with pro-life physicians to help us with the dying,” he said.
“We’ve convinced ourselves that we are in the land of the living on the way to dying,” Mitchell said. “And in reality, the Christian worldview teaches us we are in the land of the dying on the way to the land of the living.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/31/2017 11:08:36 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SBC child care, children, youth registration opens Feb. 1

January 31 2017 by Baptist Press staff

Registration opens Feb. 1 for preschool child care, Giant Cow Children’s Ministries and Youth on Mission in conjunction with the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2017 annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix.
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) child care volunteers will care for preschoolers; while Giant Cow Children’s Ministries will lead the 5- to 12-year-olds, and Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) will guide the Youth on Mission curricula and activities.
All activities for children and youth will be housed at the Phoenix Convention Center, the annual meeting site. Youth who have completed grades 7-12 will begin their days at the convention center with worship before going into the community for hands-on mission projects.
Pre-registration is required and is available online at sbcannualmeeting.net under the “children/youth” tab, with a deadline of May 5 for most programs, or whenever the space limitation of 120 children is reached. Registration will not be taken on site.

Preschool child care

SBDR child care volunteers will offer child care for newborns through 5-year-olds June 11-14, encompassing the SBC Pastors’ Conference June 11-12 and the annual meeting. The cost is $25 per child for the Pastors’ Conference and an additional $25 per child for the annual meeting. There is also a $10 non-refundable registration fee per child.
Lunch for preschoolers will be available for $6 per day June 12-14. Parents should pay all related fees upon registration to insure their child’s participation. The SBC will verify registrations with an emailed confirmation packet, including a parent’s handbook.
Every lesson and game for preschoolers will focus on the theme, “Dreamer Boy – Joseph,” and will teach students about Joseph, Jacob’s son.

Giant Cow Ministries

“Sea Cows’ Deep Sea Adventures: Finding Truth in the Water” is the theme for this year’s Giant Cow ministry events, including high-energy worship, impactful object lessons, scripture memorization, games and other activities. WMU will provide missions education as part of the curriculum.
Giant Cow Ministries will be offered for staggered fees; $65 for June 11–14, $55 for June 12–14, $45 for June 13–14, and $25 for each individual day. The registration deadline is May 30 or until available spaces are sold.
Registration is open at sbcannualmeeting.net or thegiantcow.com/sbc-2017-pre.

Youth on Mission

Youth on Mission will engage students in hands-on missions projects June 13-14 for $55 per youth, plus a nonrefundable registration fee of $10 per youth. The program is open to those who will have completed grades 7-12 by May or June. Lunch and snacks will be provided both days.
Jess Archer of Louisiana WMU is Youth on Mission coordinator.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Lynn Richmond of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee’s office of convention finance.)

1/31/2017 11:07:34 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

SBC event panelists address Trump’s immigration policies

January 30 2017 by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor

Four hours after President Donald Trump signed an executive order to temporarily close the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, five Christian leaders took the stage Jan. 27 at the Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington, D.C., to discuss how churches and individuals can respond to the complex issues surrounding refugee and immigrant ministry.
“The 81 percent of evangelicals that elected Donald Trump now carry the moral and biblical responsibility to advocate for the ‘least of these,’” said Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who read from the Sermon on the Mount at Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony.
The president’s order shuttered the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, suspended immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries ­– Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – for 90 days and blocked immigration from Syria indefinitely. The order also decreased the potential number of refugees admitted to the U.S. in 2017 by more than half, from the previously declared 110,000 to 50,000.

Photo by Josh Shank, Rocket Republic
Panelists discuss immigration and refugee ministry at the 2017 Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington, D.C. They include (from left) moderator Travis Wussow, vice president for public policy and general counsel for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief; Bryant Wright, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.; Stephanie Hammond, policy advisor for global conflicts and natural disasters for World Vision; and Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief

Trump’s executive order is meant to allow federal agencies time to review immigration and refugee admission policies and procedures. It requires periodic reports and recommendations for additional security measures.
Jenny Yang, vice president of advocacy and policy at World Relief, explained what the new policy means for the refugee resettlement agency, which relies on partnerships with local churches:
“At World Relief about 70 percent of the cases we resettle are family reunification cases. So, for the next four months we’re not going to see a single refugee family reunited.”
Yang said the organization has “significant concerns” about the executive order, since it denies protection to “some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”
She described the previous refugee vetting process as “the strictest, most stringent program ever,” and encouraged the federal government to reinstate the program as soon as possible with whatever extra measures deemed necessary.
“In the past 30 years,” said Yang, “we’ve resettled three million refugees and not a single refugee has been convicted on the charge of domestic terrorism – not a single one.”
She also outlined the complex screening process that occurs before asylum seekers are referred to World Relief for resettlement, at which point the organization pairs refugees with churches to aid in assimilation. The process requires a face-to-face interview with the Department of Homeland Security, the collection of biographical and biometric data and a database check across all 17 agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community, among other steps.
Yang said the refugee admission process has been a success and discouraged Christians from pitting compassion and security against one another. “We can do both at the same time,” she pleaded.
Bryant Wright, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., also took part in the panel discussion.
“It makes my heart ache,” Wright said, “I understand what President Trump is doing. He is fulfilling a promise. He’s building on the fear people have of Islamic terrorism – and that’s a real thing.”
But, he continued, “These people are double victims now. They’re victims where they are living, through no fault of their own. And now the United States – that has really prided itself on being a nation of immigrants and refugees – is closing the door when they’re in such a desperate situation. It really breaks your heart.”
Wright said if the window of opportunity closes for Christians to minister to refugees here in the U.S., then churches must go to the Middle East “to minister to Syrian refugees on-site.”
Despite Trump’s aggressive rhetoric on illegal immigration and growing anxiety in the Latino community, Rodriguez said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the future of the immigration program under the current administration.
Rodriguez also said the president’s transition team promised a number of concessions in previous talks:
“This is what we received explicitly, and I know we’re on the record here: There will be no deportation force. Families will not be separated. And President [Barack] Obama’s DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] will be revoked but immediately replaced. The replacement will probably be a short-term DACA … that will give Congress enough time to write up a piece of legislation that will inevitably become a bill with the president’s signature.”
Travis Wussow, vice president for public policy and general counsel for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), moderated the panel discussion, which was scheduled on the event program prior to news about immigration and refugee policy changes. Panelists also included Stephanie Hammond, policy advisor for global conflicts and natural disasters for World Vision, and Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization for World Relief.
Each of the panelists encouraged Christians to engage the political process on behalf of refugees and immigrants.
Hammond suggested going to town hall events to express opinions from a Christian worldview about caring for the vulnerable.
Soerens added that Christians should spend time listening to what God’s Word says about caring for sojourners and to the personal stories of refugees and immigrants.
Southern Baptists passed a resolution called “On Refugee Ministry” during the 2016 annual meeting which states, “That we affirm that refugees are people loved by God, made in His image, and that Christian love should be extended to them as special objects of God's mercy in a world that has displaced them from their homelands.” The document also expresses support for immigration security measures.
The 2017 Evangelicals for Life conference was co-sponsored by the ERLC and Focus on the Family. The title of the panel discussion was “Ministering to refugees and immigrants: Hard questions, complex answers, and loving our neighbors.”

1/30/2017 12:49:57 PM by Seth Brown, BR Content Editor | with 0 comments

Survey: Super Bowl unlikely to disrupt most churches

January 30 2017 by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends

For churches with Sunday night activities, most pastors say it’s still “game on” at church despite the Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Feb. 5.

According to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research, 68 percent of Protestant pastors say their church typically has some activity on Sunday night. Among those pastors, almost 6 in 10 (59 percent) say they will continue as normal on the night of the big game.
“It is easy to think everyone is watching the game,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, “but even during the Super Bowl, millions of Americans are doing other things that are important to them. For many, that includes attending church.”
While most continue as normal, other pastors say they make some type of adjustments.
Nearly a fourth of pastors (24 percent) say they change things to include watching the game. Another 12 percent adjust their Sunday night plans in other ways.
Only 5 percent of churches that normally have activities on Sunday evenings plan to cancel them entirely.
According to CBS, which broadcast the 2016 Super Bowl, 167 million viewers watched all or part of the game. This made it the most watched TV broadcast in history, drawing in 52 percent of the U.S. population to at least part of the Denver Broncos’ victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Having more than half of the country watch the Super Bowl creates an issue for churches that usually have activities during that time.
“While Christians believe the truth does not change, we recognize practices often do,” McConnell said. “Churches face a difficult task of navigating between wanting to remain countercultural and still reaching the culture. In this study, we find churches coming to different conclusions for their congregation and local context.”
Pastors of churches with fewer than 100 in attendance are likely to continue as normal on Super Bowl Sunday night. Almost 7 in 10 (68 percent) said their church’s activities would go on as usual. Churches with 100 or more were much more split, with slightly more than half (52 percent) continuing as normal.
“The overall percentage continuing normal Sunday evening activities is driven by smaller churches,” McConnell said.
Pastors in the Northeast (53 percent) and Midwest (51 percent) are less likely to continue normal Sunday night services than those in the South (65 percent). Those in the Northeast (18 percent), meanwhile, are twice as likely to say they plan to adjust Sunday night activities in other ways than pastors in the South (9 percent).
There is also an age gap. Pastors 65 and older are the most likely to say they are continuing with normal Sunday night activities (75 percent) and the least likely to say they plan to make adjustments to include watching the game (11 percent).
Meanwhile, pastors 18 to 44 are more likely to cancel Sunday night activities (8 percent) compared to those 65 and older (2 percent).
Some denominations are more likely to continue as normal. The majority of Church of Christ (78 percent), Baptist (65 percent) and Pentecostal (65 percent) pastors say they will have regular activities. Fewer than half of Lutheran (41 percent) and Methodist (34 percent) pastors say the same.
“The church is one of the few places in our country where people in a community still gather together each week, but the Super Bowl has become an event that also brings groups together,” McConnell said.
“Churches are faced with a choice: Do we want to compete with the game, incorporate it somehow or ignore it? There’s no consensus answer among Protestant pastors.”
Methodology: The phone survey of Protestant pastors was conducted Aug. 22-Sept. 16, 2016. The calling list was a stratified random sample, drawn from a list of all Protestant churches. Quotas were used for church size. Each interview was conducted with the senior pastor, minister or priest of the church called. Responses were weighted by region to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.2 percent. Margins of error are higher in subgroups.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Aaron Earls is online editor of Facts & Trends, factsandtrends.net, published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

1/30/2017 9:42:58 AM by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends | with 0 comments

Moore says gospel shapes view of human dignity

January 30 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

A gospel-based view of human dignity both contradicts and gives hope to the world, Russell Moore said in the opening address of Evangelicals for Life Jan. 26.

Photo by Josh Shank, Rocket Republic
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, speaks in the opening address of Evangelicals for Life Jan. 26. “We are evangelicals for life,” which means “we are a gospel people,” Moore said at the second annual conference in the country’s capital city.

“We are evangelicals for life,” which means “we are a gospel people,” the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) told attendees at the second annual conference in the country’s capital city.
“We’re pro-life, and we’re pro-newness of life,” Moore said. “We’re pro-birth, and we’re pro-new birth. We’re pro-adoption, because we’ve been adopted. We’re pro-racial reconciliation, because we’re part of a reconciled body in heaven and in the church. We’re pro-woman, because ... half of the Great Commission that was given in Jesus’ parting words was given to our sisters.”
He told conference participants, “And we embrace the vulnerable, the disabled, the elderly when the rest of the world says, ‘You don’t matter.’ We say, ‘You not only matter, you are such a part of our body that what happens to you is what happens to me because we are many members in one body together. That’s why we have the freedom to stand and to speak for the unborn and the aged and the refugees and the persecuted and the disabled and ... the mentally ill.”
Moore’s keynote address came in a Jan. 26 afternoon session that opened the three-day conference co-hosted by the ERLC and Focus on the Family. More than 50 speakers addressed the conference that coincided with the annual March for Life Jan. 27.
Moore told the audience Christ taught His disciples to have “a different view of power and a different view of freedom” than those outside the church.
“[W]hen we are saying unborn children have dignity, and when we’re saying persecuted religious minorities have dignity, and when we’re saying orphans and kids who are trapped in the foster care system [and] are passing from home to home have dignity, and when we’re saying the elderly who may not even be able to recognize your face have dignity, what we are saying together is that we have a different view than the rest of the world about what it takes to matter,” Moore said.
With Mark 10:13-16 as his text, Moore said Jesus angrily refuted His disciples’ effort to protect His time by preventing children from being brought to Him. Christians can demonstrate the same tendency these disciples had of giving attention to only the powerful, influential or promising, he told conference participants.
“Jesus does not see the children as a burden,” Moore said. “Jesus does not see the children as a distraction from His mission. Jesus sees the children as an integral part of his mission.”
Planned Parenthood – the country’s No. 1 abortion provider – and the rest of the abortion industry hold different views of power and freedom than followers of Christ, he said.
“The vision of Planned Parenthood makes sense in a godless, Darwinian universe in which the powerful are able to use that power against those that have no power,” Moore told attendees.
“The freedom that Jesus calls us to is a very different freedom than the freedom of self-direction,” he said. “It is a freedom of glorious submission.”
Jesus calls His followers “to a cross-shaped vision” of life, Moore said.
“We are a church of crucified sinners who understand and know that the way of the cross is a hard and difficult way,” he said. “[L]oving someone and looking outside of oneself is going to bring with it risk, and it’s going to bring with it pain, and it’s going to bring with it hurt, and it’s going to bring with it worry, and it is worth it.”
Evangelical Christians have this message for those who have had abortions and those working in abortion clinics, as well as pornographers and human traffickers, Moore told conference participants:
“We are a group of people who stand before God not because we are more moral than everybody else, not because we are more together than everybody else but simply and completely because we are in Christ. That’s the reason we don’t view people in terms of their usefulness. That’s the reason we don’t view people in terms of their power, because we have not been dealt with in that way.”
Followers of Jesus “have a witness to bear that brings with it its own power,” Moore said. “It’s power to pierce through the darkness. It’s power to address the conscience. It’s power to waken us up to the vulnerable. And it’s power to say to those who are burdened down with guilty consciences, ‘What can wash away your sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/30/2017 9:42:16 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Mosque case prompts IMB policy tweak

January 30 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Ongoing discussion of a federal court case concerning religious liberty for Muslims has prompted the resignation of an International Mission Board (IMB) trustee and a revision of the IMB’s process for submitting friend of the court briefs.

David Platt

Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn., resigned from the IMB trustee board in November based on his conviction the IMB should not have joined a friend of the court brief last May supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) also joined the brief.
Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal reported Haun’s resignation Jan. 23, and at least four other Baptist state papers published the report.
Amid continuing discussion, IMB President David Platt released a statement to Baptist Press (BP) noting, “As a result of discussions among IMB trustees and staff over recent months, we have revised our processes for our legal department filing any future amicus briefs. IMB leaders are committed in the days ahead to speak only into situations that are directly tied to our mission.”
Clyde Meador, retired executive advisor to Platt, told BP the IMB joined the ISBR amicus brief in an effort “to support the USA’s foundational principle of religious freedom” and “to support Baptist partners and others around the world who seek permission to construct church buildings.”
In December, U.S. district judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required the ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for local Christian and Jewish houses of worship.
In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the friend of the court brief joined by the IMB and ERLC, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.
The amicus brief argued the Planning Board violated the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects religious institutions from discrimination in zoning laws.
A friend of the court brief – referenced in legal terminology with the Latin phrase “amicus curiae” brief – allows a person or organization which is not a party to a case to interject legal arguments reflecting concern over precedent the Court’s decision may establish.

Haun resignation

Haun, a former Tennessee Baptist Convention (TBC) president, told BP resigning from the IMB trustees “was one of the most heart-wrenching decisions that I’ve ever had to make in my ministry because I feel like I’ve been a faithful Southern Baptist all my life.”
First Baptist Morristown took up its normal Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in December, Haun said, out of a desire to continue to support IMB missionaries. The congregation is escrowing funds it would have given through the Cooperative Program, the Baptist and Reflector reported, and “praying about their long-term response” to the action of the IMB and ERLC. But First Baptist continues to support TBC ministries.
Haun cited two reasons for his resignation: (1) The amicus brief “at least borders on” an “unholy alliance” with followers of a religion that denies both the deity and the atonement of Jesus; and (2) Joining the brief does not comport with the IMB’s stated “mission and purpose.”
Scripture forbids “unholy alliances” in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, Haun said, arguing the brief supports Muslims in their effort to construct a house of false worship.
“I don’t think the IMB advocates the same doctrine as the Muslims,” Haun said. “But I do think that Paul warns us about making these unholy alliances. And I think that’s where we’re scripturally on the edge.”
Regarding the IMB’s mission and purpose, Haun said, “I understand the religious liberty aspect of the entire argument. But I do not understand why the International Mission Board, with our mission to reach the world for Christ, would have to jump into the fray of a mosque being built in New Jersey.”
While Haun was still an IMB trustee, he contacted Platt with this concerns and the amicus brief was addressed at a confidential “trustee forum” in August, the Baptist and Reflector reported.

Religious liberty

Meador, who retired from the IMB in May, said in written comments the amicus brief “speaks to a matter closely related to International Mission Board work around the world. In a great many countries, especially but not exclusively Muslim-majority countries, Baptist churches with whom missionaries work find it very difficult if not impossible to receive permission to build church buildings.”
The IMB’s worldwide Baptist partners “emphasize the basic principle of religious freedom” in “seeking to obtain building permits,” Meador said. While religious freedom in the U.S. does “not necessarily” persuade other nations to grant similar freedom, “contrary action by the USA would be quite persuasive.”
“Should it be clear that the USA does not uphold its principle of religious freedom when applied to the building of mosques, an excuse is readily available to any Muslim or other opposing country to deny the building of church buildings,” Meador said.
The Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M), Article XVII, affirms, “Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others ... The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.”
The preamble to the BF&M notes “Baptists cherish and defend religious liberty.”

IMB’s mission

A statement on the IMB’s website notes “IMB’s specific interest in the brief arises out of the belief that all peoples of the world have the right to religious liberty.... The IMB is responsible for carrying out its ministry consistent with the entirety of the Baptist Faith and Message, not only the portions related to sharing the gospel.”
Platt cited the BF&M in his statement to BP and noted, “We continue to affirm that everyone should be able to freely worship according to their religious convictions.”
Platt continued, “At the same time, our primary purpose as an organization is ‘to partner with churches to empower limitless missionary teams who are evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.’”
Out of a commitment to “speak only into situations that are directly tied to our mission,” IMB leaders have “revised” their process for filing amicus briefs, Platt noted. He also expressed gratitude for Haun’s trustee service.
Meador told BP he did not know the former or current IMB protocol for joining amicus briefs. The IMB’s legal department was not available to explain its protocol before BP’s publication deadline. The ERLC told BP in an email it “did not ask anyone to sign on” to the brief.
The ISBR amicus brief states it was filed by attorneys with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the New York City firm of Reich and Paolella and the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom. No attorneys paid with Cooperative Program (CP) funds are listed as having prepared the brief.
Following Shipp’s December ruling and earlier satirical news stories claiming Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) dollars were being used to construct mosques, SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page noted CP funds have never been requested “for the construction of any non-Christian house of worship; nor would we agree to such a request.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/30/2017 9:37:40 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Pro-life events draw evangelicals to D.C.

January 30 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Churches and pastors are to stand for vulnerable people because of the image and glory of God, speakers told participants Jan. 26 on the first day of the Evangelicals for Life conference.

Screen capture from Facebook
For the second year, Evangelicals For Life joined tens of thousands of others on the National Mall for a rally and the march to Capitol Hill during the annual March for Life.

The conference – the second annual event co-hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and Focus on the Family – continued Jan. 27 with a schedule built around the afternoon March for Life, which also took place in the country’s capital. Evangelicals for Life (EFL) attendees were to join tens of thousands of others on the National Mall for a rally and the march to Capitol Hill.
Vice President Mike Pence was to speak at the rally in a first for the March for Life, which has been held annually, even in the snow, since 1974 – a year after the Jan. 22, 1973, legalization of abortion by the Supreme Court. Pence’s appearance marks the first time a president or vice president has spoken at the event, according to March for Life staff.
At a dinner Thursday night, the 2017 Evangelicals for Life awards were presented to four leaders. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., received the pro-life public official award; Dallas-area pastor Matt Chandler the pro-life ministry leader award; March for Life President Jeanne Mancini the pro-life, faith-based partnership award; and Focus on the Family Vice President Kelly Rosati the pro-life leader award.
ERLC President Russell Moore opened the conference Thursday afternoon with a message on how the gospel of Jesus provides a framework for addressing human dignity.

Photo by Josh Shank, Rocket Republic
Matt Chandler, lead teaching pastor of The Village Church in the Dallas area, described what it means for a church to be “a community of life” at the Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington Jan. 26.

During Thursday night’s session, Chandler told EFL participants Christians value life “from the unborn to the disabled to the dying,” because they value what God values. The lead teaching pastor of The Village Church described what it means for a church to be “a community of life,” saying such a church:
– “[B]elieves and declares that God is the author and sustainer of all life from the womb to the tomb;
– “[L]ive[s] compassionately for the welfare of the cities that our lives play out in;
– “[A]ctively fights for the oppressed, the vulnerable and the voiceless.”
Todd Wagner, founding pastor of Watermark Community Church in Dallas, urged pastors to speak for the sanctity of human life and to equip church members.
“If we don’t speak up, then what’s going to happen is that the voices that are speaking will intimidate others into silence,” Wagner said, urging pastors to speak “gently and with reverence.”
Scott Klusendorf, president of the Life Training Institute, told participants they must be prepared to “make a case for life.”
“From the earliest stages of development, you were a distinct, living and whole human being,” Klusendorf said.
“We’re all equal because we equally and fundamentally bear the image of God. We have a human nature that reflects the nature of our Creator. And you either have that nature or you don’t. It doesn’t come in degrees like self-awareness does, like physical abilities do.”

Photo by Josh Shank, Rocket Republic
Tony Merida, center, founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C., joins a panel discussion on the pro-life mission of the church during the Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington Jan. 26.

Glenn Packiam, lead pastor of New Life Downtown in Colorado Springs, said diversity among different people groups is a pro-life issue not only because of the Genesis message of each person being made in the image of God but the Revelation message of people giving glory to God.
Christians care about this issue not just because they are pro-life, he said.
“The truth is we’re in this because we’re pro-the glory of God,” Packiam told attendees. “Every life matters because every life has the capacity to bring glory to God.”
He also said, “The gospel does not erase our differences and make us bland or vanilla or neutral. The gospel actually takes our differences and our different ways of belonging and gives us a truer identity and a deeper sense of belonging that somehow fits together people ... who would not otherwise be together were it not for Christ.”
Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, urged evangelicals to value racial reconciliation and unity the way Jesus does.
“[A] lot of times we don’t want to press into the sweat of Christian unity,” Smith said, adding people say, “That’s too much work. It takes time to get to know people.”
“So I would just really press us to put the same sweat into unity that we put into personal holiness and sound, biblical doctrine.”
In a pre recorded video interview with Moore, Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias said he thinks “it’s a long road” to the restoration of the value of human life in American society.
“If the churches rise to the occasion, I’m optimistic,” Zacharias said. “But right now, it’s pretty grim …”
Panelists discussing how churches can serve families with special needs members encouraged pastors to start by listening to them.
It is difficult for such families to think of belonging to a community, said Scott Sauls, senior minister of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn. He said it is important for churches with special needs individuals “to recognize that these aren’t just people to be ministered to. They are also people to minister alongside and to be ministered to by.”
Paul Martin, senior pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto and the father of a special needs son, said a pastor needs to remove from his thinking and the thinking of his church the idea that a disability is a “cause-and-effect punishment thing.”
“We don’t live in a world of karma,” Martin told the audience. “We live in a world of grace, so we want to rejoice in that.”
On a panel on human trafficking, Ashleigh Chapman – president of the Alliance for Freedom, Restoration and Justice – acknowledged the pressing needs of both foster care and trafficking. When churches ask her which issue they should tackle, Chapman said she tells them, “Don’t make that choice. You won’t resolve either one by ignoring the other. And we don’t need to. So it’s in every way connected and must be stopped.”
Chapman said of the link between pornography and trafficking, “When you objectify a human being – and that’s pornography – it’s wildly easy to take that next step from objectification to commodification.”
The conference concluded with a morning session Jan. 28.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/30/2017 9:29:21 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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