January 2017

A foster story authored by God

January 18 2017 by Kristi Prince, Oklahoma Baptist Messenger

Bobby and Molly Edwards are models of God’s mandate in James 1:27 to love and care for those whom society often neglects. Since 2006, they have opened their home and hearts to nearly 60 foster children.

Oklahoma Baptist Messenger photo
The Edwards Family

Molly herself was adopted through the foster system and her parents hosted 101 foster children in their home.
“Our goal is at least 102,” Molly said with a smile.
Their story may sound like a Hallmark movie, but it is one that only God could author.
In 2005, Bobby and Molly’s troubled oldest son left home at the age of 15. On Oct. 2 that year, their compassionate, God-loving middle son Tommy died unexpectedly from hydrocephalus. They were devastated and began the struggle to find the new normal in their lives.
Molly returned to her work at a daycare, and Bobby trudged through the days as an assistant supervisor of facility management at Oklahoma State University. When the couple learned that the girlfriend of their estranged son was pregnant, and unsure who the father was, their grief was still too overwhelming to even worry about it.
In October 2006, a couple brought a 15-month-old foster child into Molly’s daycare class. He had been taken by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) after he was found roaming the streets in a diaper.
“He walked in and grabbed my heart,” Molly recalled, “and I had no idea why.”
Bobby, in his visits to the daycare, also fell in love with him, and the couple’s daughter, Samantha, who volunteered there asked her parents to adopt him. In July 2007, Molly prayed that if it would be God’s will, He would somehow make the child theirs.
“I knew that he would never replace Tommy, but I also knew that he would fill a void in our lives,” she said.
They knew that Tommy would want them to share the love they had for him with a child in need and somehow find beauty among the ashes. Two days later they were told that DHS had removed the child of their oldest son’s girlfriend. Molly began to ask questions about the toddler.
In a plot twist that only God could orchestrate, it was the same 15-month-old boy who had marched into her daycare and captivated the hearts of her family. DNA testing confirmed that Molly had unknowingly been taking care of their grandson for the last nine months.
They rushed to complete the required foster parent training and on Oct. 2, 2007, two years to the day after Tommy’s death, the family brought Tony home as a foster child.
This was only the beginning of the work God planned for them. In 2014, they adopted Robert, another of their foster children, and in 2015, Tony’s adoption became final. They also have four foster children currently and plan to minister to many others.
Their daughter Samantha now works for DHS. The Edwards’ home continues to be a revolving door for children in need. They haven’t had to minister alone. Molly and Bobby received much support when they were members of Eagle Heights Baptist Church in Stillwater, Okla.
Pastor Brent Prentice said the couple “is an example to us all of what it looks like to consistently, joyfully and sacrificially give their lives to hurting people. Our goal as a church is to be more than just pro-birth; we must be as pro-life as possible. It is not enough just to be known for being against a tragedy like abortion. In word and deed we have to be [compassionate] for the vulnerable unborn and hurting mothers and fathers.”
Bobby and Molly continue to receive foster care support as members of Countryside Baptist Church in Stillwater.
Through their obedience, God has given the Edwards family an opportunity to minister to parents and children who have lost all other support.
“I was never good at witnessing in a traditional way to people,” Bobby said, “but foster care has allowed me to share Christ in a different way with so many people. We love to take in these babies. I watch them change from being frightened of me to climbing in my lap and loving on me.
Bobby and Molly pray that their influence will affect how these children see family, and that little girls in their care will grow to understand God’s role for men in their lives. Seeing the sanctity of life as extending beyond the womb, the couple also hopes to show these children that their lives have value, hoping that by doing so they can break a vicious cycle.
“These families don’t want to be in the situation they are in,” Bobby said. “Most of them aren’t bad people; they just don’t know any better. They are all searching for something.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kristi Prince is a contributing writer for the Baptist Messenger, baptistmessenger.com, newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.)

1/18/2017 9:11:33 AM by Kristi Prince, Oklahoma Baptist Messenger | with 0 comments

StemExpress drops effort to quash Planned Parenthood video

January 17 2017 by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service

As of Jan. 11, investigative group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) faces one fewer lawsuit connected to its undercover recordings revealing Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities’ sale of aborted baby body parts.

Fox News screen grab

StemExpress, a human tissue procurement company, dropped its lawsuit aimed at an incriminating video taken by CMP. The video shows CEO Cate Dyer describing her company’s baby body parts procurement.
CMP director David Daleiden told me StemExpress “decided to drop their own lawsuit and walk away with no money in damages, no attorney fees, nothing.”
In the summer of 2015, StemExpress sued CMP and sought a preliminary injunction against the video, saying the journalists were guilty of fraudulent business dealings. The injunction would have required the group to take its video off the Internet, but a judge denied it.
A month after his group released the footage, Daleiden said StemExpress attorneys approached him to reach a settlement.
“It was a very bad settlement,” Daleiden said. “They wanted us to take down the video, so of course we said, ‘No.’” A year later, the same attorneys requested to be removed from the case.
This month, the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives referred StemExpress for criminal investigation.
The Center for Medical Progress faces two additional lawsuits, one from Planned Parenthood and one from the National Abortion Federation.
The National Abortion Federation procured a federal judge’s gag order against what Daleiden said was roughly half of his group’s entire work taken during two of the federation’s annual meetings.
Daleiden expects a ruling in that case soon and said StemExpress’ abandonment of its lawsuit bodes well for his organization.
“I think that sends a really unmistakable message to Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation and all of their political cronies that they can’t win these lawsuits like this, that freedom of speech and the freedom of the citizen press to investigate and publish is a First Amendment freedom, and it’s not a form of fraud,” he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Samantha Gobba writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

1/17/2017 8:58:58 AM by Samantha Gobba, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Catholic hospital fights transgender discrimination claim

January 17 2017 by Ray Hacke, WORLD News Service

A Catholic hospital in New Jersey faces a lawsuit for allegedly refusing to remove the uterus of a woman who wants to be anatomically more like a man.
Jionni Conforti, 33, filed suit against St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center of Paterson, N.J. on Jan. 5 in federal court. Conforti, who is biologically female but identifies as male, brought suit under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) because St. Joseph’s refused to remove Conforti’s uterus on the grounds that doing so would violate the Catholic teaching that God made people male and female.
Conforti had the procedure done at another hospital but is suing to prevent St. Joseph’s from refusing gender transition-related treatments to other transgender persons.
Catholic hospitals nationwide are facing similar pressure. In North Dakota, Catholic organizations whose members include hospitals filed suit in late December to block parts of the ACA that would force Catholic hospitals to violate church tenets.
The ACA prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has redefined “sex” to include gender identity – the gender a person claims to be, regardless of whether it matches his or her biological sex. Whether courts agree with the HHS interpretation of the law or not, a bigger question concerns whether the law infringes on hospitals’ First Amendment freedom to operate according to religious principles.
“We ask only for the freedom to serve consistent with our conscience and our Catholic faith,” said Bishop John T. Folda of the Diocese of Fargo, N.D. “While we do not discriminate against individuals because of their orientation, our Catholic values will not permit us to pay for or facilitate actions that are contrary to our faith.”
Catholic hospitals say they would never refuse medically necessary treatment to transgender persons, but removing healthy body parts or giving hormone injections upon request is different.
“Catholic hospitals provide compassionate care to everyone, regardless of status. Patients experiencing gender dysphoria deserve no less,” said Douglas Wilson of the Catholic Benefits Association. “The prime ethic of any healthcare provider is ‘do no harm.’”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ray Hacke writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

1/17/2017 8:56:25 AM by Ray Hacke, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Urban church planters sow amid complex demographics

January 17 2017 by Kimber Ross, Baptist Convention of New England

Boston church planting catalyst Joe Souza has developed a unique strategy for working in the city: prayer driving.

Contributed photo
Joe Souza, left, and Celebration Church served free Thanksgiving meals to about 100 members of the Charlestown community.

As a lifelong urbanite and an urban church planter in Rio de Janeiro, Orlando and now Boston, Souza frequently ponders how to reach the vast numbers of distinctive city dwellers, many of whom have radically different lifestyles from the average Christian.
“I pray, I cry and I ask God in desperation: Father, do something here that these people may understand that You are God,” said Souza, who also is pastor of Celebration Church in Boston’s historic Charlestown neighborhood.
Souza is not alone. Dozens of church planters have answered God’s call in recent years to spread the gospel in New England cities such as Boston.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the growth of urban city dwellers is outpacing the growth of the general population. The southernmost New England states are following this trend – and actually have higher than average rates of urban dwellers – with 88 percent of Connecticut’s population living in urban areas while the figure rises to more than 90 percent in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Learning on the job

Gary Knighton, a former youth pastor, first connected with urban church plant Faith Fellowship when some University of Hartford students invited him to visit after an evangelism conference in 2014. As a native of Bloomfield, Conn., a few minutes outside Hartford, Knighton provided a New Englander’s perspective on reaching the lost, as well as a wealth of connections with local believers who could advise the new church plant.

Contributed photo
Part of Celebration Church’s prayer strategy includes hosting an overnight prayer vigil every other month. “We’re just a rowdy Brazilian church in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood,” Souza said. “But what God has done is amazing.”

“I ended up becoming kind of their indigenous guru because I’ve been here for so long,” Knighton said. “I kind of knew the spiritual climate and spiritual resources available.”
Despite his familiarity with New England, Knighton had spent more time in the suburbs than the city. While transitioning to an urban area, he learned on the job through reading books, connecting with experienced leaders and taking on increased responsibility, starting as community outreach pastor, then becoming Faith Fellowship’s executive pastor and now lead pastor.
But most importantly, he grew by learning a new level of dependence on God. Knighton frequently finds himself praying, “Lord, help me to drop my preferences in order to reach the people group [urbanites] You want me to reach.”
Souza, meanwhile, had years of experience in church planting but had never lived in New England before coming to Boston to help First Brazilian Baptist Church plant a new church. He spent his first 18 months in Boston learning the culture, developing a strategy and talking with other church planters and leaders.
During that time, God changed his plans about the new church plant. Originally intended to be an outreach to Brazilians, God impressed on Souza and other leaders that “if we were just to target the Brazilian population, we would be missing a huge chunk of the population in our own backyard.”
Out of this conviction, Souza planted Celebration Church, an English-speaking church with a Brazilian flair that reaches many second-generation immigrants and Brazilian/American couples.
This Spirit-led direction illustrates what many believe – a period of time dedicated to settling into the community and praying over plans is one of the most foundational elements of preparing to plant a church.
David Butler, the North American Mission Board’s Send City missionary in Boston, noted that demographics and onsite exegesis are helpful but have limits.
“It’s absolutely essential to live in the community for at least a year,” Butler said. “Living with and becoming a part of the fabric of a community or neighborhood allows you to go beyond knowing about to knowing personally.”

Contributed photo
Gary Knighton, right, helps baptize a recent graduate of the University of Hartford.

Millennials & the ‘forgotten’

Both Knighton and Souza described two key segments in urban church plants: millennials and the “highly forgotten” people.
As pastor of a church plant located on a university campus and volunteer chaplain at the University of Hartford, Knighton frequently interacts with college students and millennials, which has altered his perspective about ministry.
“Millennials, there’s 100 different things pulling at their attention. Church is [only] one of the things they do, and not the most important thing,” Knighton said.
This view of church as one of many things is now prevalent even among Christians, and it has caused Knighton to develop a more relational, less program-based approach to ministry as he learns “to lead from the pew more than the pulpit.”
“They need people who are older to pour into their lives,” Knighton said, describing millennials’ unique needs, such as mentors to help them learn life skills, deal with struggles like depression and simply spend time with them.
This type of discipleship requires a significant investment of time outside of scheduled church events, an approach that is different from the way the church operated in past years. After growing up in an environment focused on church activities, Knighton has had to re-learn how to minister to people.
“I kind of had to model things in my life that weren’t modeled for me,” he said.
At the other end of the spectrum are the “highly forgotten,” as Souza describes them.
“I spend time with people who are homosexuals, prostitutes, pimps. That comes with being an urban church planter,” Souza said. “It’s a different world. You have to come up with alternate ways to preach the gospel.”
God has blessed Celebration Church with opportunities to reach out to people such as prostitutes and gang members who are often overlooked by many in the church. Although some Christians might feel reluctant to spend time with them, Souza notes that this is exactly what Jesus did – and He is still in the business of changing the lives of those who seem hopeless.

Contributed photo
Faith Fellowship meets on Sunday mornings in a student center on the University of Hartford campus, allowing them to reach both members of the community and university students.

One example is a current church member, Tommy (name changed), who was once heavily involved in a gang. After meeting a Christian who was sharing the gospel on the street, Tommy had an encounter with Jesus which led to a radical conversion and life change. Today he is invested in reaching out to others on the streets, and the church is “rallying around” Tommy, others like him and this type of ministry.
Knighton agreed that church planters must be prepared to work with people who don’t live a pretty life, noting that, for many, “normality is skewed.”
“You can’t be afraid to engage with certain types of people,” Knighton said. “You can’t be afraid of a mess. You’ve got to meet people where they are.”
A previous job as a counselor for parolees proved most helpful in preparing Knighton to work with broken urbanites. Even those who are not struggling with drugs, alcohol and crime have felt needs that many suburbanites can’t relate to, like employment, medical awareness and education. These needs, Knighton said, give urban church planters distinct opportunities to engage with the community holistically.
Souza added that urban church planters must be in different parts of the city at different times of day to reach the most people.
“It’s definitely important to understand the vibe of the city during office hours and during off hours,” he said. “For someone to be successful in urban church planting, they need to understand the uniqueness of ministry around the clock, in a sense.”
Opportunities to engage people with the gospel don’t always happen at convenient times or in traditional places, Souza said, noting, “It may not be a Sunday morning meeting; it may be a meeting at Dunkin’ Donuts.”

Following God, not trends

Butler agreed that meeting people where they are is one of the most important mindsets an urban church planter can cultivate.
“The apologetic for church planting in any urban setting, but especially Boston, is authenticity,” Butler said. The goal of church planting is “to love the people and build bridges of grace strong enough to bear the weight of truth.”
While a plethora of books and articles have been published on church planting, and such information can often be helpful, Knighton advises planters to find their own style of leading – one that is natural for their personality and fits within their broader context. He also advised church planters to counter pressure to get “too fancy, too fast.”
“Unfortunately, there’s this growing model of trying to start big on the first Sunday,” Knighton said. “You need to start with what you can sustain and go from there.”
Souza mentioned the possibility that, with the increased attention church planting has received in recent years, a pastor could feel attracted to church planting not out of obedience to God but out of ambition or trendiness, which can lead to selfishness and pride.
“The greatest thing that I’ve learned is we can’t get credit for this. It’s really God at work,” Souza said. “He can even use a messed-up Brazilian from Rio de Janeiro in a church planting movement.”
When Souza first moved to Massachusetts in the early 2000s, 87 percent of church plants in greater Boston were folding within two to four years. In fact, when Souza was asked to become the church planting catalyst for the area, it was by default – he was the only local church planter at that time who had successfully launched.
But in the past few years, God has been doing something amazing in New England through church plants – more than 115 churches in the Baptist Convention of New England have been planted since 2010, and today’s plants are surviving at a rate of 90 percent and even reproducing.
“Churches younger than five years are starting other churches,” Souza said. He believes God is working through planters who cultivate humility, a spirit of teamwork and a sense of community with other pastors and planters.
Souza acknowledged that it’s easy to be pulled apart or develop a “Lone Ranger mentality,” but as Christ teaches in John 17, “our unity is the best message for the world to know that Jesus is Messiah.”
And ultimately, all the glory goes to God.
“The more that I understand the challenge [is] to not only plant a church but survive and thrive, the more I know that I’m not able to do this … which means God is the sustainer,” Souza said. “It’s the sense that I’m totally impotent to do something about this … but God can choose someone like me to be a part of what He’s doing in Boston, which is something phenomenal. I can’t ever get over it.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kimber Ross is the communications coordinator for the Baptist Convention of New England.)

1/17/2017 8:55:37 AM by Kimber Ross, Baptist Convention of New England | with 0 comments

University settles with Christian counseling student

January 17 2017 by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service

Missouri State University (MSU) says it will pay $25,000 to a former student who was expelled for his views on homosexuality. The agreement settles a lawsuit filed last April by Andrew Cash, a former MSU graduate student who alleges the university kicked him out of the master’s in counseling program because he expressed a religious objection to counseling same-sex couples.
The settlement was finalized in December but became public this week when the Springfield News-Leader reported on the agreement after an open records request.
The MSU Board of Governors will pay Cash $25,000 from the state of Missouri legal defense fund, an amount they said is “the estimated tuition cost for Cash to obtain a master’s degree in counseling from Evangel University or another similar institution.” The terms of the settlement state Cash cannot seek admission or employment with MSU and the university does not admit liability.
Cash began the Master of Science in Counseling program in 2007. In 2011, Cash started an internship with the Springfield Marriage and Family Institute (SMFI), a Christian counseling agency. The site was approved by the internship coordinator, Kristi Perryman. When Perryman learned that staff members at SMFI said they could not counsel gay couples because of their religious beliefs, she asked for a meeting with Cash.
When asked, Cash told her that he, too, would have to refer gay couples to another counselor due to his religious convictions about homosexuality. He said he would be happy to counsel gay individuals on any other matter – depression or anxiety, for example – but he could not counsel regarding same-sex relationships. Perryman said that conviction was a violation of the American Counseling Association’s code of ethics. After months of back-and-forth between Cash and MSU, school officials expelled Cash from the program in November 2014. Cash had a 3.81 GPA and was almost finished with his degree. He appealed the decision, but was denied.
Cash filed a federal civil rights action complaint against MSU in April 2016 claiming the university violated his First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and free expression.
“We are honored to have represented Andrew Cash in his quest to serve others with professional counseling while maintaining his religious convictions,” said Thomas Olp, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, which represented Cash. “His religious convictions are protected by the U.S. Constitution and should have been respected in an academic environment.”
In 2006, MSU settled a similar case with another former student. Emily Brooker sued MSU soon after she graduated for violating her constitutional rights by requiring she support gay adoption and foster care as part of a mandatory class assignment. MSU settled the case and paid Brooker $27,000.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kiley Crossland writes for WORLD News Service, a division of WORLD Magazine, worldmag.com, based in Asheville. Used with permission.)

1/17/2017 8:47:28 AM by Kiley Crossland, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

Bullet in head relates to ‘everything I preach’

January 17 2017 by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist and Reflector

Just looking at Ternae “T.J.” Jordan Jr., one would never suspect he once was in a hospital with a bullet in his head, fighting for his life.
Jordan still has the bullet in his head more than 23 years later but has no visible scars at its entry point.

Contributed photo
Ternae “T.J.” Jordan Jr., left, recently attended a meeting at the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s rented office space in Brentwood with his father, Ternae Jordan Sr., center, and his brother, Jamichael. The elder Jordan is pastor of Mount Canaan Baptist Church, Chattanooga, while T.J. is his assistant pastor.

He now serves as assistant pastor at Mount Canaan Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., where his father, Ternae Jordan Sr., is pastor.
T.J., then 15, was hit by a stray bullet fired during a fight outside a local YMCA in Indiana, where his father was a pastor at the time, as he and his sister Dejuan were waiting to be picked up by their mother after piano lessons.
Jordan was in the hospital for about three weeks. The early prognosis was that he would be blind or have brain damage. Because the bullet was lodged between his brain and skull, doctors decided it was best not to remove it.
Yet, today Jordan has fully recovered. He still goes in for CAT scans to make sure the bullet has not moved and has been told several times the CAT scans reveal he should not have motor skills.
“God says otherwise,” Jordan said. “This shows there is a supernatural God.
“God has been so good to me that I sometimes forget that it even happened,” Jordan said of the shooting. Though he doesn’t have pain from the bullet still lodged in his head, he said his head will throb occasionally.
“It’s as if that is God’s way of telling me, ‘I saved you for a reason and you need to let the world know,’” he said.
And, Jordan does just that whenever an opportunity presents itself. He has written a book titled Is It Just My Imagination?: Utilizing Your God-Given Imagination. Jordan preaches for his dad at Mount Canaan and at youth evangelism rallies.
“I can apply my testimony to everything I preach or teach about,” he said.
And, sometimes, “my testimony is the sermon,” Jordan added.
He is convinced that being shot at age 15 has helped him become a better minister because he can relate to people who are hurting. “They may not have been wounded by a bullet but they have been wounded by life. I can relate,” Jordan said.
He also is living proof to people that God “still works miracles. God is able to use my life and my story to show that He is real,” Jordan said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector, baptistandreflector.org, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

1/17/2017 8:42:18 AM by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist and Reflector | with 0 comments

1957 SBC president drew MLK’s praise for stand

January 16 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Though Southern Baptists were not known for their advocacy of racial justice 60 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. once told a fellow black Baptist minister that the 1957 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) president “suffered with us” in the cause of civil rights.

SBHLA photo
Rep. Brooks Hays, D-Ark., served as SBC president from 1956-58.

King’s reference was to the late U.S. Rep. Brooks Hays, D-Ark., who served as SBC president from 1956-58. After helping to mediate a conflict over integration at Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., Hays lost his bid for reelection to a ninth term in Congress to a write-in segregationist candidate.
Six years later, Hays was serving as special assistant to President John F. Kennedy, and he walked by the door of a room in the White House where King was sitting as he waited to meet with the president. “Mr. Hays,” King called out, according to an oral history of Hays by Ronald Tonks.
Hays stopped, and King, turning to the Baptist minister who accompanied him, said, “Mr. Hays has suffered with us.”
That statement, Hays said, was “a reference to the Little Rock experience and my defeat.” He added, “I can’t remember anything else he said ... I never could forget that.”

Hays the mediator

Photo courtesy of Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum
Brooks Hays, right, helped arrange a meeting between Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, center, and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower when conflict arose over the desegregation of a Little Rock high school.

In 1957, Little Rock’s school board stood ready to begin court-ordered desegregation of local public schools, beginning with Central High. But Gov. Orval Faubus, fearing violence and convinced a majority of Arkansans opposed integration, deployed the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine black students from entering the school.
As tensions escalated, Hays helped organize a meeting between Faubus and President Dwight Eisenhower. Hays also served as a go-between for state and federal officials for two weeks, hoping for peaceful desegregation, according to his memoir A Southern Moderate Speaks.
When violence broke out, Eisenhower ordered the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to enforce integration, and many segregationists saw Hays as a crucial foe of their cause.
During the conflict, King sent Eisenhower a telegram urging “a strong forthright stand.” Following the president’s deployment of the 101st, King wrote in another telegram, “I wish to express my sincere support for the stand you have taken to restore law and order in Little Rock …. Spiritual forces cannot emerge in a situation of mob violence.”
The 101st remained at Central from mid-September until December, Hays wrote. Federalized National Guard troops didn’t leave until the end of the school year.
The episode left Arkansas Baptists divided.
Pastors of three churches that cooperated with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention signed a letter condemning Faubus’ deployment of the National Guard, and one pastor joined a coalition commending the governor, the Arkansas Baptist newsjournal reported.
Arkansas Baptist editor Edwin McDonald editorialized that “since the race issue is one that finds our Baptists of the state on the fence and on both sides of the fence ... we are taking no stand either for or against integration.”

‘Standing up’

Photo from Wikimedia Commons
In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower called in troops from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division to ensure the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.

Sam Agee, a former Arkansas Air National Guardsman who was deployed to Central High, remembers Hays as principled and courageous.
Hays “was standing up for what he believed in,” Agee, 82, told Baptist Press. “... He thought that he was doing what was right.”
Agee, a life-long Southern Baptist, said he didn’t feel animosity toward African Americans in 1957. Still, he thought blacks “had their own schools,” and he “wondered why we would want to cause problems” by integrating.
During the desegregation standoff, black students approached Agee and fellow guardsmen, he said. An officer “told them that they couldn’t come in.”
As years passed, however, Agee said he realized schools for black students “probably weren’t as good as Little Rock Central High” and separate was not equal.

‘Southern moderate’

Hays seemed intent to win over citizens like Agee, who voted for him in defeat during the 1958 election.
While Hays sought equal justice for people of all races, he held “a strong states’ rights bent” and believed “enforcement of [civil rights] legislation” should “be left to the states rather than the federal government,” according to a 2003 article by historian Terry Goddard in the journal Baptist History and Heritage.
In 1956 Hays joined other Southern congressmen in signing the infamous “Southern Manifesto,” which argued against racial integration of public places. But later he said he regretted that action, Goddard wrote.
Hays labelled himself a “southern moderate,” noting the only use of the word moderation in scripture is positive (Philippians 4:5 KJV).
“The word ‘moderation’ as generally used fits my approach,” Hays wrote. “And I am a Southerner. I speak as an American, too, and as one who believes that sectional conflicts can be harmonized and that the national interest can be conserved through an appeal to reason and to reasonableness on both sides.”

Civil rights ‘solutions’

In the aftermath of the Little Rock crisis, Hays not only lost his seat in Congress, he also received an icy reception from at least one Baptist state convention he addressed in his capacity as SBC president, Hays wrote in A Southern Moderate Speaks.
Additionally, he felt compelled to urge Billy Graham to cancel an evangelistic meeting scheduled for Little Rock because the city was “in a state of shock,” Hays wrote. Graham heeded the advice.
In lauding Hays, King apparently believed his “moderation” included praiseworthy elements, including the price he paid for not embracing segregationists. Perhaps another feature King admired was Hays’ belief that Christians should help lead the country in racial reconciliation.
“In the last analysis,” Hays wrote, “it will be the churches and the local community of organizations that will provide solutions to the problems of civil rights.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/16/2017 11:36:08 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Court urged to reverse pro-transgender ruling

January 16 2017 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has joined with other faith organizations to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower-court ruling that a federal anti-discrimination law regarding sex covers gender identity.
In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Jan. 10, the ERLC and its allies told the justices a refusal to reverse the appeals court opinion in the case “would unleash conflicts over religious liberty resembling the conflicts over same-sex marriage” and could even marginalize people of faith.
The Supreme Court has yet to schedule oral arguments in the case, which is likely to be argued in March or April. If so, a decision is expected before the high court adjourns in late June or early July.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled in April the school board of an eastern Virginia county violated federal law by refusing to permit a transgender high school student – who is a female biologically but identifies as a male – to use the boys’ restroom. In a 2-1 opinion overturning a federal judge, the Fourth Circuit panel agreed with an Obama administration letter in ruling the ban on sex discrimination in the Title IX education amendments encompasses gender identity.
The ERLC “gladly joined in this important case to stand against the Obama administration’s latest effort to take power from Congress,” said Travis Wussow, the ERLC’s general counsel and vice president for public policy.
“The administration has attempted to create new law through the executive branch that jeopardizes student privacy, undermines parental authority and further conflicts with religious liberty,” Wussow told Baptist Press in written comments. “If any president wishes to redefine what the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ mean for every public school in the country, he must make his case in the legislature, not a small government office in Washington, D.C.”
When it issues an opinion, the Supreme Court may provide a definitive victory in a battle being waged in American schools regarding transgender rights – one advocates for such rights have been winning recently.
About a month after the Fourth Circuit’s decision, the Obama administration issued a sweeping directive on transgender rights. Officials with the Departments of Education and Justice told public school districts, as well as colleges and universities, to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their gender identity. The guidance was not legally binding, but it implied noncompliance could result in the loss of federal aid.
The high court has said it will rule on two issues in the case – whether the Obama administration’s interpretation that protections against sex discrimination include gender identity is valid and whether a federal agency letter to that effect should be granted deference by the courts.
The Department of Education said in a letter last January, “When a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex ... a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.” In its opinion, the Fourth Circuit panel said the department’s interpretation should be “accorded controlling weight.”
The ERLC and the other signers of the brief said the Department of Education’s interpretation contradicts the belief of their faiths and other religious traditions that “a person’s identity as male or female is created by God and immutable.”
“Not surprisingly, then, interpreting ‘sex’ to include gender identity would create thorny conflicts between federal civil rights law and widely held religious beliefs,” according to the brief.
Such an interpretation, the brief said, could result in students being taught beliefs contrary to those of their parents and in religious colleges and universities having problems in preserving single-sex dormitories and maintaining privacy in showers and changing rooms.
If expanded beyond federal law in the field of education, the inclusion of gender identity under sex discrimination could produce legal problems in such areas as employment and housing, the ERLC and its allies said in the brief.
If the high court affirms the Department of Education’s view, it “would also take a long step toward delegitimizing traditional religions,” according to the brief. “Making gender identity a protected class under Title IX implies that traditional attitudes toward gender identity are discriminatory. That implication, enshrined in federal civil rights law, would impose a stigma on religious people and institutions whose faith dictates that gender identity is determined by one’s birth sex.
“[R]eligious Americans could find themselves increasingly marginalized for believing that gender is immutable and divinely ordained.”
Congress – which has not added gender identity as a protected class in federal law – is the appropriate branch to “balance competing interests” and settle the issue, the brief said.
“Legislators and local authorities can step in where reasonable solutions are not offered voluntarily,” according to the brief. “But if bureaucratic fiat supplants the democratic process, gender identity will become yet another flashpoint for social tension and conflict.”
The brief includes statements of belief on gender from nine different faith perspectives, including the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The SBC section cites statements from the Baptist Faith and Message, the convention’s confession of faith, and resolutions approved at the annual meeting in 2014 and 2016.
The 2014 SBC resolution “affirm[ed] God’s good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” The resolution “regard[ed] our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of Almighty God and therefore condemn[ed] acts of abuse or bullying committed against them.”
The resolution also said, “We invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.”
Others signing onto the brief were the National Association of Evangelicals, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and Christian Legal Society.
The Gloucester County (Va.) school district had provided a separate restroom for the student who brought suit, but she said being forced to use the alternative restroom further stigmatized her. The Obama administration backed her position. She underwent hormone therapy, legally changed her name to a male name and asked to be treated as a male before her sophomore year of high school in 2014.
The case is Gloucester County School Board v. G.G.

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

1/16/2017 11:30:23 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

First Provo plants gospel of Christ in Utah

January 16 2017 by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press

Four Southern Baptist church plants are in their early stages in Utah County, traditional Mormon country but home to First Baptist Church of Provo since 1948.

Submitted photo
The 65-member strong First Baptist Church of Provo, Utah looks beyond its walls to spread the gospel through the four church plants it currently has underway.

Pastor Russ Robinson has led the Baptist congregation to plant other churches rather than expand its church building, a former Mormon or Latter-day Saints (LDS) “ward meeting house” the church bought in 1963. Located in an out-of-the-way residential neighborhood, First Baptist Provo, founded in 1948, is at near-capacity for the perhaps 100 people who worship there Sunday mornings.
“We’re very much invested in proclaiming the gospel in Utah County and to the ends of the earth,” Robinson told Baptist Press. “We’re a small church but we think we can do a whole lot more.”
Among First Baptist Provo’s church plants is one in Springville, a town south of Provo that has more than doubled in size since 2000, but has only one evangelical church for its nearly 35,000 residents. Another congregation is set for southeast Provo, home to more than 10,000 college students and perhaps 10,000 more young families. Others are planned for Lehi, which has increased by 13,000 people since 2010, and among the area’s growing Hispanic population, about 12 percent of the county’s population.
Despite its size, First Baptist Provo already is doing “a whole lot more” than it was when Robinson was called from Tennessee seven years ago to his first pastorate. Missions giving then was less than 1 percent of the annual church budget, but is budgeted at 10 percent for 2017.

Submitted photo
A recent church planter ordination at First Baptist Church in Provo, Utah included church members, friends and family of Joe Concepcion, Zach Thompson, and Caleb Murdock, who were ordained into the gospel ministry. A fourth church planter, Kirk Shull, was already ordained when he came to the church.

Mission trips were non-existent then, except for Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief. Now the church goes to Haiti at least once a year to work with an orphanage and local churches there in evangelistic outreaches. A new missions endeavor to southwestern Wisconsin in partnership with the Salt Lake Baptist Association is being planned for the summer.
Mission partnerships were unheard of with the church seven years ago. In the summer of 2016, First Provo housed 175 short-term missions volunteers from various churches to work in Utah County, and trained them in evangelizing Mormons and other groups.
This is essential because the area’s dominant religion, Mormonism, teaches that God was once a man, and that men can become gods. Numerous other doctrines – such as salvation – deemed essential to Christians are different for Mormons, Robinson explained.
First Baptist Provo conducts various types of evangelism, including relational, event-driven and door-to-door, aimed at “the gospel being presented clearly, compassionately and boldly,” Robinson said. “Our training usually focuses heavily on making clear the doctrine of ‘imputed righteousness.’
“Most Latter-day Saints will agree with you that Christ died for sins,” Robinson said. “Almost all will disagree that we can be seen as righteous as Christ today by faith, as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:21. This is a necessary point of the gospel that needs to be made clear to LDS neighbors who trust in their own righteousness for salvation.”

Pastor Russ Robinson

Many Mormons believe that everyone is going to at least one level of heaven, “affirming a gospel of religious relativism and pluralism, although you won’t find that in their scriptures,” Robinson said. “When you preach a gospel of the exclusivity of Christ, there are some real obstacles of faith.”
In a population the U.S. Census Bureau said was 516,564 in 2010, Utah County tallied a total of 2,540 evangelical Christians, 6,792 Catholics, 423 mainline Protestants, 211 African American Protestants, and 459,847 Mormons, according to the Association of Religious Data Archives (ARDA). ARDA statistics “can be computed to show that Utah County is 0.49 percent evangelical/mainline,” Robinson said. “Keep in mind the International Mission Board’s definition of ‘unreached and unengaged’ is 2 percent or less.”
Mormons are dominant in Utah County primarily because Brigham Young University (BYU), the religion’s flagship school, was started in Provo by Young in 1875. More than 33,000 students attended BYU during the fall 2016 semester.
At the same time First Baptist Provo is sending out four families to plant churches, the congregation is planning to “develop a person to lead in missions training and biblical counseling,” Robinson said. “We want to send out more short-term missions teams, and we have suicide and prescription drug abuse epidemics here. And … almost every person who comes to us out of Mormonism has a great load on them.”
First Baptist Provo seeks to identify God-called church planters, nurture them, guide them, mentor them and help them locate areas that need a gospel witness, but because of its size, it cannot underwrite all the church plants members believe God wants them to help start, Robinson said.
“We perceive we need more financial resources,” the pastor said, “and we’d love to have more missions-minded people who would invest their lives here in our community.
“Here’s what we don’t have, which is our dream, our prayer, what we’re laboring for,” Robinson noted. “The indigenous person. The goal is for churches in Utah to be led by people from Utah, to reach the people of Utah with the message of biblical grace that isn’t earned through works but is a free gift that comes from God the Father through the work of Jesus Christ by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/16/2017 11:24:54 AM by Karen L. Willoughby, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Inmate’s gender transition said to show ministry need

January 16 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

The first government-funded gender reassignment surgery for a prison inmate in the U.S. has been cited as evidence of the need to address gender identity struggles in prison ministry.
Shiloh Quine, a convicted murderer serving a life sentence without parole, is recovering from male-to-female gender reassignment surgery funded by the state of California, The Washington Post reported Jan. 10.
Quine’s surgical gender transition followed the 2015 settlement of a lawsuit he filed seeking the procedure. He has identified as female for decades, according to the Associated Press, and has a history of depression and attempted suicide. He was charged with robbery, kidnapping and murder in 1980.
Of 64 requests for gender reassignment surgery in the California prison system, four have been approved, 13 await a decision and 51 have been denied, the Post reported. There are a total of 475 inmates in California prisons that identify as transgender.
Ben Phillips, director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s extension center in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Darrington Unit, said some inmates’ desire for gender transition reflects a “gut level” perception “that there is something seriously wrong with how they have been living their lives.”
“Many prisoners know that there needs to be a major change, and actually want to make it,” Phillips told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments. “Some may even genuinely become convinced that the problem lies in their gender and [believe] if that were changed, then their behavior would be changed as well.”
Yet “as involved as gender reassignment surgery is, it is actually ‘easier’ than addressing the real problem,” Phillips said. “Major transformation is certainly needed, but it is transformation of the heart, not gender. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can change a prisoner’s heart. Anything else runs the risk of merely exchanging one set of problems for another.”
In Quine’s case, California agreed on transfer to a women’s facility following surgery. The state plans to comply with a court order to allow clothes and other items consistent with inmates’ perceived gender identities, like scarves and necklaces for men, AP reported.
The transfer to a women’s facility in particular is alarming to Phillips.
“I am certain prison systems will be concerned about ... the danger of prisoners seeking gender reassignment surgery or claiming to be transgender in order to have ‘inappropriate physical contact’ with other prisoners,” Phillips said. “The Prison Rape Elimination Act, first passed in Texas under then-Gov. George W. Bush, and later at the federal level under President [Bush], deals with the fact that sexual contact in prison always or almost always has a coercive or manipulative component.”
Another concern is that inmates may be able to “drastically change their appearance” through gender transition in an effort to avoid detection following escape attempts, Phillips said.
New Orleans pastor David Crosby, who has ministered to Texas death row inmates, agreed that allowing prisoners to have gender reassignment surgery not only poses security problems but also financial issues.
Gender reassignment surgery “should be considered elective and therefore not covered by taxpayers,” Crosby told BP in written comments. “It generally is supported by hormonal therapy and often hair removal, which is definitely cosmetic and ongoing.”
Crosby noted, “prisoners are required to live celibate lives. This surgery suggests behaviors which breach that protocol and would threaten security, which is job one in prisons.”
The cost of gender reassignment surgery could reach $100,000 per case, including accompanying treatments needed before and after surgery, according to California Correctional Health Services.
A Massachusetts court ruled in 2012 that a convicted murderer must receive state-funded gender reassignment surgery, but the ruling was overturned on appeal, according to media reports.
A convicted murderer in California was released on parole last year after a federal judge ordered the state prison system to provide gender reassignment surgery. The inmate said he was going to proceed with the surgery on his own once out of prison.
A 2015 Southern Baptist Convention resolution “on transgender identity” affirmed “that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.”
The resolution “extend[ed] love and compassion to those” experiencing “a distressing conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity.” The statement “invite[d] all transgender persons to trust Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/16/2017 11:24:24 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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