January 2017

Refugee children finding sense of normalcy

January 12 2017 by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN

An international ensemble of eight guitarists enthusiastically played and sang during a December rehearsal. The musicians, like the other refugee children attending weekly classes at the Ethnic Group Academy (EGA), reveled in the experience, happy that for at least a couple of hours that Saturday afternoon they could just be kids.

Photo by Bonnie Pritchett
The international and interfaith ensemble plays and sings “How Great is our God.” EGA infuses the gospel into each class offered.

EGA is a ministry of Hanmaum International Baptist Church, a predominantly South Korean congregation. When Pastor Jong Su Heo learned six years ago about the influx of refugees into Tarrant County, Texas, he asked God how his congregation could help. The answer? A reconsideration of the term “foreign missions.”
“With language and culture barriers and everything else, there’s not always much we can do except love these kids and show [and] tell them that we love them and that God loves them,” Ethnic Group Academy (EGA) volunteer Kimberly Brooks told the TEXAN.
She and her husband Jeff, members of another church, have volunteered with the refugee program since it began in 2011. EGA’s mission has become a community project drawing volunteers from Hanmaum International Baptist Church, nearby Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and like-minded congregations.
Heo, a South Korean immigrant, did not share the tumultuous journey of a refugee in coming to America. But he still empathizes with some of their struggles to adapt to life in North Texas. Their arrival in his neighborhood altered Heo’s vision of his congregation as an outreach to South Korean immigrants, seminary students and “Anglo Americans.”
In 2010, the church acquired a two-story, 30-room education building on 5.5 acres of land in order to reach the incoming refugees with the gospel. While other Christian charities meet refugees’ material needs, EGA fills an essential yet easily overlooked need.
“I think EGA gives refugee kids an opportunity to be like normal kids,” Kimberly Brooks said. “A lot of these families cannot afford or don’t know about extracurricular activities for their kids. EGA is a small opportunity for these kids to participate in something that they might not get to otherwise.”
Violin and guitar lessons, soccer, Taekwondo, choir, arts and crafts, English as a Second Language classes and SAT tutoring are some of the 11 activities offered every Saturday from 3-5 p.m. during the school year.
Each week the church bus and passenger van collect 85-100 students from two area apartment complexes where refugees are resettled by World Relief, Catholic Charities and Refugee Services of Texas.
Among the three charities nearly 3,000 people were relocated to Tarrant County between October 2013 and October 2015, according to Jay Long, World Relief Church mobilization program manager. They come from Iraq, Burma, Nepal/Bhutan, Somalia, Eritrea, Congo and Afghanistan.
Mary Mi and her husband Nai San’s Oo and their two children came to Texas from Burma via a Malaysian United Nations refugee camp. Conditions in Burma (also known as Myanmar) left the young family in fear of their lives. Army incursions into their village sent women fleeing into the forest. Men were forced into service as human pack mules bearing heavy loads for the soldiers. Mary said the men would disappear for three to six months at a time.
“Some didn’t come back,” she said.
Cherry Neill, an EGA volunteer, cradled the couple’s 5-year-old daughter Angel in her lap as she filled in the gaps of Mary and Nai San’s story when their English failed them. Although Neill knows the story well, she still bristles at the anguish they suffered and exults in the work of God in bringing the once-faithful Buddhist couple to faith in Christ and then to Texas. The family has grown since their resettlement with the birth of their second son Abraham 18 months ago. Their oldest son Abednego, 8, was a baby when they fled their home.
Mary and Nai San have found a home in Texas and an extended family in Neill and the EGA participants and volunteers.
“My joy overflows almost every day,” Neill told the TEXAN. “I have the jaw-dropping opportunity to serve both believing and pre-believing refugees, who are at least open to friendship if nothing else.”
She and other EGA volunteers cultivate those friendships during the week, often visiting the families in their homes, inviting them to their own homes, assessing needs, providing tutoring, taking them to McDonalds and beginning a women’s Bible study.
Volunteers see the cultural and language differences not as barriers but as opportunities to speak a common language – love for the children.
“The big thing is that the students have a chance to be around not only other students but every week they are spending time with people who are unequivocally for them – praying for them, caring about them,” Jeff Brooks said.
Heo said the gospel infuses all that is done at the academy. The Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist refugees recognize EGA is a Christian organization and, at times, accept open gospel pronouncements.
“I’ve been in cross-cultural ministry for 17 years,” Neill said. “No one has ever refused prayer in [the Lord Jesus’] name.”
Heo believes in God’s call to foreign missions remains. But, in Tarrant County, the world is coming to the church and the mission efforts there are bearing fruit.
“When they came to the U.S. they were refugees, but when they return to their kinsmen they will be American citizens, being equipped with [the] English language, professional knowledge and skills and above all the good news of Jesus Christ,” Heo said. “I believe this is God’s design to bring people from everywhere to the U.S. to hear the gospel.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

1/12/2017 9:22:12 AM by Bonnie Pritchett, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments

Stanley’s expansive In Touch Ministries reaching globe

January 12 2017 by Gerald Harris, Georgia Christian Index

When pastor Charles Stanley launched The Chapel Hour in 1972 on Atlanta-area television stations, he probably never dreamed that 45 years later his ministry would become so expansive that it would cover most of the earth.

IN TOUCH photo
A worker at a Russian Ice Station in Antarctica pauses in -20-degree weather to hold up the Messenger presented by Charles Stanley.

Many may contend that few people have had the impact upon the world for good and for God like the pastor of Atlanta’s First Baptist Church and the founder and president of In Touch Ministries.
In Touch with Dr. Charles Stanley programs are seen and heard around the world on more than 2,800 radio and televisions outlets. And, through the means of modern technology and communication, the former Southern Baptist Convention president’s messages can be heard on every continent in 150 countries. His sermons have been translated into 114 different languages and counting.

‘The most exciting time in history’

In his book Courageous Faith, Stanley writes, “We are now closer than ever to getting His Word out to all people. With the Bible in more languages and with technological improvements, God has enabled us to reach even the most secluded tribes on the planet.
“I believe we are living in the most exciting time in history, able to tell so many people in so many different countries about Jesus. Platforms for communication that no one dreamed possible when I was a boy are now everyday tools for taking the gospel around the world.”
One of the communication devices Stanley was referring to is the pocket-sized Messenger, In Touch Ministries’ flagship solar-powered audio device that holds up to 65 of Stanley’s sermons, the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs in a variety of languages. The Messenger can hold content in two languages at a time. There are actually eight different devices in the Messenger Lab family, each one designed to meet the needs of specific people groups who have their own communication challenges.

IN TOUCH photo
First Baptist Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley gives Messengers to the entire staff of a small lodge in the Serengeti, Tanzania.


Distribution of the solar-powered audio devices

To date, In Touch has given out more than 750,000 of these solar-powered audio devices valued at a total of more than $26 million. In Touch does not sell the devices, but gives them away as a part of their worldwide ministry.
Since the shelf life of each device is long and each device must pass certain stress tests to ensure durability they can be used for years. Some of the devices are used to communicate the gospel to house churches and Bible study groups. So, one device could potentially touch the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

Saved from a bullet by the Messenger

Many soldiers in the Ukrainian army were given Messengers, which they put in their uniform shirt pockets. In one battle one of those soldiers was shot and the bullet hit him in his chest where the Messenger was in his pocket. The device saved his life.
The soldier was apparently only momentarily dismayed by being shot, but devastated that the bullet had disabled his Messenger. He sent the damaged Messenger to the offices at In Touch in Atlanta and requested one that was operational and would allow him to hear Stanley’s messages.
Stanley, in sharing the story of that Ukrainian soldier, held up the Messenger that stopped the bullet, and exclaimed, “The device will save your life; but the message will save your soul.”
In 2014 when pro-Russian separatists were fighting Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine a Russian soldier got a Messenger off of a dead Ukrainian soldier. After listening to Stanley’s messages on the Messenger the Russian soldier accepted Christ as his Savior and decided to go to a Ukrainian church.
He walked in with his military uniform on and weapon in hand, but sat down and listened to the sermon. After the service ended the congregants invited him back for the following Sunday.

IN TOUCH photo
Pastors hold up their Messengers after a distribution in a small village outside of Jinja, Uganda.


From the Pygmies of Africa to prisons of El Salvador

Brad Brown, chief information officer for In Touch Ministries, noted, “The missionaries we work with have been able to take the Messenger into the rainforest of the Congo to the Pygmies. These people are among the poorest of the poor, but are as deserving of the gospel as anyone. We love getting the message of redemption to people who couldn’t get it any other way.”
Brown continued, “One of our Messenger Lab devices is called the LightStream, which we’ve put on water towers in Africa and South America.
People within the vicinity of that tower can pick up the messages from this device on their cellphone Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and download Stanley’s sermons and the Bible.
“We also plant the Lightstream outside refugee camps so that those inside the camps can get the good news of the gospel,” Brown said.
“We also have [Southern Baptist missionaries] in countries where there are significant restrictions on preaching the gospel. They are able to distribute the Messenger where large groups of people gather to listen to the Word of God.
“There is a blind man in Budapest, Hungary,” Brown said, “who gives out Messengers to other blind people. Those who can’t see can hear. And those who can’t read, can also hear.
“We have missionaries in Norway, Turkey, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia – all over the world,” he said, “who are delivering the Messenger to people who would never be able to hear the gospel otherwise. We even have access to prisons in El Salvador. We have distributed the Messenger to every continent on earth, including Antarctica.”

IN TOUCH photo
At the August 28, 2016 service at First Baptist Atlanta, Charles Stanley shared the story of how an In Touch Messenger, inset, stopped a bullet from killing a Ukrainian soldier.


A teaching partner with In Touch

Bill Loveless is spending his retirement years in ministry as a teaching partner with In Touch. In 2016, Loveless went to South Sudan to distribute some Slates (electronic tablets with Messenger content and pastor resources) in a small village at the base of the Lopit Mountains.
Loveless reported, “When I was praying about the trip, my friends kept telling me, ‘It’s dangerous over there.’ But God took me to Psalm 31, which is a beautiful Psalm on God’s protection, and I felt like He was saying, ‘I’ve got your back. Don’t worry about it.’
“Other than the civil war that’s been going on, the main problem is tribal warfare. But at no time did I feel in harm’s way. All of the men carried AK-47s on their shoulders, mostly to ward off cattle thieves. If you didn’t have a gun, you were a pastor.”
Loveless commented about how receptive the pastors and others were to his teaching and how thrilled they were to understand the truth of God’s Word that they had never understood before. He told about showing the Jesus film, how the whole village turned out to see it, and the wonderful response of those who trusted Christ as Savior.

Distributing 10,000 Messengers a month

In Touch currently distributes approximately 10,000 Messengers a month. They are available for distribution through missionaries, church volunteer mission groups and to those in the military and those in prison.
Stanley noted, “The gospel can penetrate any darkness, any theological or philosophical defenses, any hardened heart. People are saved because the Spirit testifies that what they’ve heard is the truth.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index, christianindex.org, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention.)

1/12/2017 9:14:14 AM by Gerald Harris, Georgia Christian Index | with 1 comments

D.C. church’s lesbian co-pastors spark ‘concern’

January 11 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A Washington D.C. church’s decision to call a legally-married lesbian couple as co-pastors has led a fellow District of Columbia Baptist Convention (DCBC) pastor to call for “prayerful dialog” between convention leadership and the church. A Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) seminary president suggested the DCBC should disfellowship the congregation.

Photo from Facebook

Meanwhile, DCBC executive director Robert Cochran told Baptist Press the convention has “no plans to disassociate” with the church and he “has never discussed the issue of homosexuality with” the congregation’s leaders.
Calvary Baptist Church in Washington – a congregation that voted in 2012 to cease cooperation with the SBC – approved Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen Jan. 8 as its new senior ministers, according to a news release from the church. The two women were married in 2014, according to media reports.
Joseph Lyles, pastor of Fort Foote Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md., told Baptist Press (BP) he was “surprised” and “concerned” that a sister DCBC church would call openly homosexual co-pastors. Fort Foote is a Southern Baptist church.
Lyles, a former president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC, said he finds it “difficult” to affirm same-sex marriage “with a biblical basis.”
When it comes to cooperation within a state Baptist convention, “I would hope that lines would be drawn,” Lyles said. Though each local church “is a sovereign body, I would think that if a church is moving” toward affirmation of homosexual behavior, convention leaders should “have a serious dialogue and prayerful discussion with them.”
Lyles added, “My loving, compassionate side would not [want to disfellowship] them from the convention ... Hopefully they will come around and see the biblical light.”
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said Calvary’s call of lesbian pastors represents “a very dramatic challenge” for the DCBC.
If the convention does “not expel Calvary Baptist Church from their membership,” Mohler said Jan. 10 on his podcast The Briefing, “then they by very definition simply become a convention that will accept, that indeed does accept a church that has legally married lesbian co-pastors in terms of their own membership.”
Cochran told BP in written comments, “We have no plans to disassociate [with Calvary]. To the best of my knowledge, the D.C. Baptist Convention, due to its respect for local congregational autonomy, has never withdrawn fellowship from any congregation.”
Cochran said he is “certain that homosexuality has been discussed” at some point since the founding of Calvary in 1861 and the DCBC in 1877. But, he added, “I can state with certainty that I have never discussed the issue of homosexuality with leaders at Calvary.”
The present fellowship of churches in the DCBC, Cochran said, is comparable to the fellowship during the Civil War, when Calvary “chose to be abolitionist while other Baptist congregations in D.C. and elsewhere remained in opposition to that position. We maintained our Baptist fellowship among ourselves as well as our fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention throughout the Civil War and beyond.”
Carol Blythe, chair of Calvary’s Ministerial Selection Committee, said in a statement, “As we met and talked with Sally and Maria about their vision for pastoral leadership at Calvary, we were struck by their deep faith and commitment to being part of a gospel community.”
Sarratt is associate chaplain for behavioral health in the Greenville (S.C.) Health System and associate minister at Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Calvary reported. She served previously as a global service corps missionary through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Swearingen is associate chaplain at Furman University.
Sarratt and Swearingen said in accepting Calvary’s call, “We have found it easy to fall in love with Calvary and its longstanding commitment to be a voice of justice and compassion for those who perpetually find the wholeness of their humanity disregarded and maligned.”
Calvary has historic ties with the SBC, according to a 1994 history of the congregation by Carl and Olive Tiller. In the mid-20th century, former SBC President Brooks Hays and SBC Executive Committee chairman George Fraser were among its members.
The congregation split its missions giving between Northern and Southern Baptists “until 1988, when the fundamentalist shift in the Southern Baptist Convention ... appeared to be irreversible,” the Tillers wrote. Calvary then reduced its gifts to SBC causes.
In 2014, Calvary “reaffirmed” the ordination of Allyson Robinson, who was ordained as a male but sought reaffirmation of that ordination after transitioning to present himself as a woman, according to media reports at the time. Robinson went on to serve as Calvary’s transitions pastor.
Among present “affiliations” listed on Calvary’s website are the Alliance of Baptists; American Baptist Churches USA; the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists; the CBF; the DCBC; the Baptist World Alliance; the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America; and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/11/2017 11:12:10 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Teenage refugee finds family through adoption

January 11 2017 by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN

Many parents approach their children’s teenage years with some trepidation, but Kelly and Shellie Carson began parenting at age 28 by adopting 17-year-old Kiir just before he aged out of the Texas foster care system.

Photo by Arianne Ball
The Carson Family: (top left-to-right) Shellie, Nate, Kelly and Kiir; (bottom left-to-right) Lex, Jaylen, and Darius

Kiir says that if the Carsons had not adopted him, he might have ended up homeless and hopeless, Shellie Carson told the TEXAN.
While Texas law permits foster children to stay in foster care beyond the age of 18, Carson said this was not an option for Kiir. Had he not been adopted, he would have had to, at the very least, “figure life out on his own,” a daunting task for any 18-year-old, much less one who spoke little English.
“Kiir needs to write a book about his life,” Carson exclaimed.
Born in an Ethiopian refugee camp, Kiir grew up shuttled between war-torn Ethiopia and Sudan, the biological son of a Muslim military father and a Christian mother who brought him to the United States when he was almost 14.
Eventually, Texas Child Protective Services removed him from his birth mother’s home and placed him in foster care.
The transition to foster care was difficult for Kiir. Language barriers landed him in special education classes at school, although he had no learning disability. When Kiir became part of the Carson family before entering his senior year of high school, his reading level was at an early elementary level.
“People didn’t know what to do with him,” Carson said. She did. A reading specialist, Carson and her husband tutored Kiir nightly, and by the time he graduated from high school in 2011, he was reading at a sixth-grade level.
Kiir has since completed two years of community college, works for a major airline and lives independently in an apartment near his adoptive family, which has grown to number four other children. Lex was adopted as an infant, and biological brothers Darius and Jaylen were adopted from foster care.
Baby Nate “capped us off,” said Shellie of the unexpected biological son born to the couple in September.
The Carsons’ road to family was not what they expected.
When they failed to conceive after more than a year and a half of trying, they committed to a month or more of focused prayer about what God wanted them to do. They concluded, separately, that God wanted them to adopt a teenage son.
It was as if God said, “I have already picked him for you,” Shellie recalled. “The Lord was telling us exactly the same thing.”
The Carsons worked through the organization Covenant Kids to find Kiir.
In preparation for adopting an older child, they read books and attended workshops sponsored by Tapestry, a foster care and adoption ministry.
Nearly a year before adopting Kiir, they participated in Tapestry workshops geared toward older adoptions.
Kiir calls the day the court ruled the adoption final – Dec. 21, 2010 – as “Happy Kiir Day,” which the Carsons celebrate every year.
The December ruling culminated a year of activity, which began in January when the Carsons started the process of becoming certified as foster parents. Eighty-plus pages of paperwork were followed by a home visit in March. About this time, the Carsons opted to adopt rather than foster.
“While what we were aiming to do through foster care was a ‘good’ thing and more practical in the eyes of the world, it was not what God had called us to do,” Shellie wrote in her blog. “God called us to adopt a teenage boy, not to foster one.”
Within two weeks of switching their license to matched adoption, the Carsons received Kiir’s biography and photograph.
After Kiir entered the family, the Carsons began attending First Baptist Church (FBC) in Irving, where their new son developed close friendships.
“He hit it off immediately with a youth worker who was also adopted,” Shellie said. This friend led Kiir to the Lord.
Unbeknownst to the Carsons, when Kiir, facing life outside the foster system, was asked if he wanted to be adopted, he had agreed skeptically, assuming that adoption would never happen.
“Kiir told us he prayed to God, telling the Lord that if He really existed, He would provide a family,” Shellie said.
“How can I not believe after this?” Kiir cried after accepting Christ as his savior.
The Carsons credit their family and church family with providing support and prayer.
Adoptions and fostering are becoming a way of life at FBC Irving. At least four families have adopted children through traditional agencies, foster care and even internationally.
With FBC Irving staff member Janelle Hartsfield, also an adoptive parent, the Carsons started a ministry at church called Grafted, which serves as a resource to support adoptive and foster families.
Shellie quotes Psalm 113 in her blog: “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, and with the princes of their people” – a reminder that her children “whom I have not yet met have a story that has not come to fruition.”
“They will be our princes. They will be our people. They will be ours,” she said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

1/11/2017 11:07:30 AM by Jane Rodgers, Southern Baptist TEXAN | with 0 comments

Colorado Baptists seek new executive director

January 11 2017 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

The Colorado Baptist General Convention (CBGC) is receiving applications for a new executive director to replace Mark Edlund, retiring in July after 15 years of service.

The executive director would serve a unified and healthy convention of 391 churches and church plants in one of the fastest growing states in the nation, said CBGC President Mike Routt, citing Edlund’s tenure.
“Dr. Mark Edlund has provided excellent spiritual guidance and counsel during his tenure,” Routt said. “When he leaves his office in July, Mark departs with a difference-making legacy of servant leadership.”
The new leader would continue Edlund’s focus on planting new churches and helping revitalize existing congregations, Routt said, in efforts to reach the state that has no Southern Baptist churches in 115 of its 200 zip codes.
Colorado Baptists have especially focused on church planting along the state’s front range, extending from Fort Collins to Pueblo and housing 80 percent of the state’s 4.24 million people. Among new residents, 80 percent are drawn to the region, the CGBC said.
The new leader should be an experienced and active leader in Southern Baptist life with at least five years of administrative experience, a history of sound financial management, and knowledge of Southern Baptist Convention polity and structure. A master’s degree (or equivalent) from an accredited seminary is required.
The CGBC is located in a suburb of Denver, which North American Mission Board area missionary Dave Howeth describes as the fastest growing city in the nation. More than 1,200 moved to the metropolitan area every month from 2010-2015, said Howeth, noting a total of 83,000 people.
Denver is a top draw for millennials, with 18,000 living downtown and an 18 percent growth rate of millennials projected within the next five years, the CGBC said. Among other statistics distinguishing the area, 175 different languages are spoken, more than a million people live in multi-housing sites, and the Denver public school district is the fastest growing urban district in the nation, having grown 14 percent of the past five years.
Routt has appointed Calvin Wittman, pastor of Applewood Baptist Church in Wheat Ridge, as chair of the executive director search team. Other members are Scott Bailey, lead pastor of Majestic Baptist Church, Pueblo West; Tree Cooper, pastor of Alpine Chapel in Telluride and a former CBGC president; Tyann DeClue, a member of Calvary Church, Englewood; Marcus Rawls, executive director of the Ponderosa Retreat and Conference Center, Larkspur; Michael Salazar, youth pastor at Summit Baptist Church in Wiggins; and James Vaughn, a North American Mission Board church planting catalyst in southwest Colorado.
Wittman will receive applications and recommendations for the position at 11200 W. 32nd Ave., Wheat Ridge, CO, 80033, or at cwittman@applewoodbaptist.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

1/11/2017 11:04:53 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Walker joins Lankford as prayer caucus leader

January 11 2017 by Baptist Press staff

Another Southern Baptist has stepped up to provide leadership for the Congressional Prayer Caucus.
Rep. Mark Walker, R.-N.C., will be the new House of Representatives co-chairman of the caucus; it was announced Jan. 9. Sen. James Lankford, R.-Okla., the other co-chairman of the prayer caucus, and former Rep. Randy Forbes, R.-Va., made the announcement. All three are members of Southern Baptist churches.

Photo provided by lankford.senate.gov
Mark Walker and James Lankford

Forbes, a seven-term congressman, founded the caucus in 2005 to help protect the right of people to exercise their religious belief and pray freely. The caucus had more than 90 members in the last congressional session. Walker is replacing Forbes, who lost in the Republican primary last year in his bid for re-election.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, expressed his gratitude for the leadership Forbes and Lankford have provided to the Congressional Prayer Caucus.
“I’m overjoyed to see Congressman Forbes’ tireless work in praying and speaking on religious freedom issues will be continued by the new leadership of Congressman Mark Walker,” Moore said in a written statement. “I’m honored to call Congressman Walker a friend who represents Southern Baptists and all people of faith with excellence, integrity and skill in the United States Congress.
“This important caucus is raising awareness of the dire state of religious freedom around the world.”
The caucus intends to advocate this year for religious liberty on such issues as health-care conscience protections, freedom for religious schools and employers’ hiring rights, according to a release from Lankford’s office.
Walker gained election to the House in 2014 after serving Southern Baptist churches for about 15 years in such roles as executive pastor, as well as lead pastor of a church plant. He most recently was associate pastor of music and worship at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C.
The second-term congressman said in the release he looks forward to “fighting to protect one of the foundations of our First Amendment” as the caucus’ co-chairman.
“Though politics can be divisive at times, prayer should be a uniting force for Congress and for our nation,” Walker said.
Forbes said in the release, “Freedom of conscience is part of who we are as a nation, and we must preserve this fundamental freedom in our nation. That’s why I founded the Prayer Caucus. Today, the strength and size of the Caucus is a testament to the importance of protecting and preserving our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage.”
Lankford – the director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma’s Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center for 13 years before his 2010 election to the House – welcomed Walker as co-chairman and expressed his gratitude for Forbes.
“America is stronger because of his commitment to creating this Caucus, and being a consistent champion for religious freedom,” Lankford said in the release. “Our nation is a diverse country that values the freedom to have faith or have no faith at all. It is vitally important that Congress respects these values in public policy, as well as culture.”
In 2015, Lankford became the first member of the Senate to join the caucus. He won a special election in 2014 to complete a Senate term and was elected to a full term in 2016.
During its first 11 years, the Congressional Prayer Caucus’ efforts have included:

  • Helping pass a bill to confirm “In God We Trust” as the national motto;
  • Successfully working to protect religious expression by military service members;
  • Defending the rights of student religious ministries at secular universities;
  • Gaining reversal of a policy that prevented people from distributing religious material during visits to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

Walker is also the new chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus for conservative House GOP members.

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

1/11/2017 11:01:23 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

ACLU challenges Kentucky’s new ultrasound law

January 11 2017 by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new Kentucky law requiring women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound first.
The lawsuit, filed at U. S. District Court in Louisville, seeks to overturn the ultrasound law approved by the General Assembly on Jan. 7.
“It forces physicians to deliver a government-mandated, ideological message to patients in violation of the First Amendment, all the while causing harm to their patients,” the ACLU claims in the lawsuit. “It also compels women to listen to this government-mandated speech while lying captive on the examination table.”
Gov. Matt Bevin said he’s not surprised by the suit.
“This is a good piece of legislation,” Bevin said. “This was crafted in a way to comply with existing law and still exercise the sovereignty this state and this legislative body has.”
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of EMW Women’s Center in Louisville, its staff and patients and three physicians and their patients.
Named as defendants are Attorney General Andy Beshear, Health and Family Services Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson and Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure Executive Director Michael Rodman.
Representatives of the ACLU said their legal analysis is still underway on another Kentucky bill approved last week that bans late-term abortions except when the mother’s life is in danger.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Latek writes for Kentucky Today, kentuckytoday.com, a news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

1/11/2017 10:51:27 AM by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today | with 0 comments

Judge in mosque case: Baptist church treated ‘better’

January 10 2017 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A federal judge’s ruling that a New Jersey Islamic society faced unlawful religious discrimination has noted local Baptists were treated “differently and better” under similar circumstances.
The ruling came in a case that stirred discussion among Southern Baptists last year when the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the International Mission Board (IMB) joined a friend of the court brief advocating religious liberty for the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J. (ISBR). Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Frank S. Page clarified amid controversy at the time and again Jan. 6 that Cooperative Program (CP) funds have not been, and will not be, used to fund construction of mosques.
U.S. district judge Michael Shipp ruled Dec. 31 that 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.
The parking ordinance at issue requires “churches” – a term that Shipp ruled includes Jewish, Islamic and Christian congregations – to construct one parking space for every three seats in a proposed house of worship. Yet the Planning Board required the ISBR’s plan for a 150-person mosque to include 107 parking spaces. The board cited a report suggesting mosques may require more parking than religious gathering places of other faiths.
Because peak Muslim worship time is Friday afternoon, township planners argued, attendees would likely come from work in separate cars rather than as families, the NJ.com news website reported.
The ISBR revised its plans to include the requisite 107 parking spaces but did not file a final site plan including the revision, Shipp stated. The society’s submitted site plan was rejected in January 2016, prompting a lawsuit.
Shipp’s opinion states Basking Ridge’s Millington Baptist Church, which is not a Southern Baptist church, was “treated ... differently and better” than the Islamic society. The 57-page opinion noted the cases of two Jewish synagogues as well but mentioned Millington by name 22 times.
“In or around 1998,” Millington applied for permission to construct a 1,200-seat worship center with 403 parking spaces – approximately a 3-to-1 ratio – and was granted approval in October 2000, Shipp stated. Around 2007, Millington was granted approval to build a youth and family ministry building with less than half of the parking spaces required by local ordinance, provided the congregation offered additional off-site parking with shuttle service.
While Millington’s most recent site plan was approved after four public hearings, the ISBR’s proposal resulted in 39 public hearings, which Shipp said is “more than the Planning Board held for any previous applicant.”
Bernards Township argued the heightened requirement for the Islamic society was issued as a practical necessity rather than a form of religious discrimination.
Shipp ruled the township’s intent was irrelevant. Discrimination occurred, he wrote, because the Planning Board “interpreted the Parking Ordinance to expressly distinguish treatment of Christian churches from Muslim mosques.”
Shipp acknowledged the friend of the court brief joined by the ERLC and IMB, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.
At the June 2016 SBC annual meeting in St. Louis, the brief was the subject of a messenger motion requesting that the SBC “withdraw” its friend of the court brief. The motion was ruled out of order because the ERLC and IMB joined the brief, not the SBC. Another motion that was ruled out of order called for all Southern Baptist officials or officers who support the rights of Muslims to build mosques in the U.S. to be immediately removed from their position within the SBC.
The SBC motions came amid ongoing discussion of the extent to which religious liberty should be granted to Muslims. The discussion included an editorial by a Baptist state paper editor arguing Islam may not qualify for all First Amendment protections. And in a blog post, ERLC President Russell Moore advocated religious liberty for practitioners of non-Christian religions.
Some of the ongoing discussion centered around a false, and originally satirical, claim propagated on the internet that the SBC and at least one cooperating state convention were building mosques.
Page underscored his refutation of that claim in a Jan. 6 statement to Baptist Press.
“Cooperative Program funds are used to further Southern Baptists’ singular purpose – to reach as many men, women, boys and girls as possible with the saving gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Page said. “We have never been asked for CP gifts to be used for the construction of any non-Christian house of worship; nor would we agree to such a request. In an age of satirical websites and fake news stories, Southern Baptists can know with confidence that claims to the contrary are spurious reports.”
The case name is The Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, et al., v. Township of Bernards, et al.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

1/10/2017 1:51:50 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Roman Gabriel, Tony Dungy promote Super Bowl rally

January 10 2017 by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor

Football has been a big part of Roman Gabriel III’s life. His father was a star quarterback at North Carolina State University and advanced to the National Football League (NFL) to play for the Los Angeles Rams for eleven seasons, then five seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles. The son followed his dad with a short stint in the NFL until he was sidelined by injuries.

Image captured from YouTube
Tony Dungy, seen here in this video screenshot, and Roman Gabriel, Biblical Recorder sports correspondent, are promoting a live Super Bowl Rally Feb. 1 for churches to use.

Gabriel remains closely connected with his football roots through an organization he founded, Sold Out Sports. Sold Out is a sports and character education program that places Gabriel in schools where he challenges students to abstain from alcohol and drugs.
His calling takes him all over his home state of North Carolina. But every year Gabriel reserves a week of his schedule to attend Super Bowl events where he spends time with big name athletes and sports media personalities. For the past five years he has served as the Biblical Recorder’s sports correspondent at this big event.
But the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston, Texas, will be much different for Gabriel and a host of other sports figures that have worked together to launch a rally the Wednesday night before Sunday’s big game on Feb. 5. The rally will be broadcast directly to churches and other faith gatherings with a clear message of the gospel.
“We’re partnering with Tony Dungy’s group, All Pro Dad, which is a fatherhood/parenthood engagement charitable organization out of Tampa, Florida,” Gabriel told the Biblical Recorder. “Coach Dungy’s coming alongside to help us promote it to the churches.”
In a promotional video Dungy said, “Our goal at All Pro Dad is to help men love their family well.”
The rally will originate from Grace Community Church in Humble, Texas. The Faith, Family & Football rally features testimonies and conversations with coaches, players and other sports personalities. Joining Dungy in the broadcast will be CBS sports personality James Brown, sports agent Leigh Steinberg, NFL alumni Dan Pastorini and Shawn Alexander, and the NFL’s first female coach, Jen Welter. Additional guests from the competing teams will be added to the schedule.
“Our whole goal with the program is to lead to a gospel presentation so that churches, through their men’s ministry and through their family ministries, can invite people to attend who might not ever go to church, but would come to a Super Bowl event,” Gabriel said. “At the end of the one-hour program there will be a clear altar call and gospel presentation.”
Gabriel said he hopes to get approval from the NFL Commissioner to make the rally an official, annual Super Bowl event beginning next year in Minneapolis.
All Pro Dad already has an official Super Bowl event. “It’s a youth mentoring camp,” Gabriel explained. “So we hope to bring our event alongside Dungy’s camp that reaches out to families in the community who can’t afford to experience Super Bowl events otherwise.”
Churches are invited to host the broadcast in their location. Although the live simulcast is on Feb. 1 at 7:30 p.m. (CST), Gabriel said, “churches that cannot fit the Wednesday event in their schedule, can download the video and host their own event on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday or any time that fits best for the church.”
There’s a nominal fee of $299 for a church of any size to access the video. Gabriel said, “We want to work with churches of all sizes to help them reach their friends with the gospel.”

Small groups and individuals can sign up to download the simulcast for only $19.99, but a special rate of $9.99 is available for those who sign up by Jan. 22 at faithandfootballlive.com.
The American Family Network and other ministries are joining the effort. You Version Bible app is providing a six-day follow-up program. “Those who make decisions for Christ at the rally or local church event will be provided access to this spiritual growth tool that will walk them through the decision they made,” Gabriel said. “This gives churches a way to begin the discipling process for each new believer.”
A new faith-based awards program is another addition to Gabriel’s project. Five awards will be given to deserving faith-based sports personalities, coaches, players and people in the sports media business.
Gabriel said, “Coach Dungy will be giving out the All Pro Dad award. Spencer Tillman will present an award to a local high school athlete who has faith and family principles. There will also be a mentoring award and a first female coach award for Jen Welter’s impact with women in sports. There is no other event like this at the Super Bowl.”
Gabriel invites church leaders to use the rally as an outreach tool. He emphasized the evangelistic potential of the event as churches host a gathering on the day and time of their choosing.
“Coach Dungy so represents integrity and godliness in the world of sports,” said Gabriel. “He’s honored as the most trusted sports broadcaster in the business. We’re so pleased he is willing to bring his persona to this event.”
Discounts are available for groups that sign up by Jan. 22. For more information, visit faithandfootballlive.com.

1/10/2017 1:47:39 PM by K. Allan Blume, BR Editor | with 0 comments

Kentucky governor signs bills to protect unborn babies

January 10 2017 by Kentucky Today staff

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed bills into law the evening of Jan. 7 that ban late-term abortions and require women seeking abortions to undergo ultrasounds.
Both laws took effect as soon as Bevin’s signature was applied. Lawmakers held a rare session on Saturday to give final passage to a series of high-priority bills, including two that would curb abortions.
The late-term abortion law bans the procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases in which the mother’s life is in danger. Physicians who violate the measure could have their medical licenses revoked and could be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison.
Under the ultrasound law, physicians are required to display the images so women can see, though they have the option to avert their eyes if they don’t want to see them. Physicians face a $100,000 fine for a first offense and a $250,000 fine for subsequent offenses.
Both the new laws were heralded by evangelicals.
“Kentucky Baptists have been working, hoping, and praying for this day for a very long time,” said Paul Chitwood, executive director of the 750,000-member Kentucky Baptist Convention, the state’s largest religious organization.
The abortion laws, along with several others, passed in the first week of the 2017 legislative session. All of them also went into effect immediately.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kentucky Today, kentuckytoday.com, is a news resource of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.)

1/10/2017 1:44:41 PM by Kentucky Today staff | with 0 comments

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