July 2014

Party ties, not religious ones, drive down Obama’s approval rating

July 14 2014 by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service

Most Christians don’t approve of President Obama right now, but he gets high ratings from Muslims and other minority religious groups.
 
It’s not because of their religion, though.
 
Obama’s level of popular approval matches Americans’ political party ties, not their religious identity, age or almost any other demographic characteristic, said Jeffrey Jones, managing editor of the Gallup poll.

 
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Image courtesy of Gallup
Obama ranks lowest among Mormons, according to a new Gallup poll. For use with RNS-POLL-OBAMA transmitted July 11, 2014.

The newest Gallup tracking poll shows the president’s approval rating in June averaged 43 percent for Americans overall. However, his ratings sank with Catholics to 44 percent, down from 54 percent in June 2013.
 
In that time frame, most Protestants’ already low approval for the president slid to 37 percent from 43 percent. And Mormons, never big fans of Obama, gave him the same 18 percent approval rating as last summer.
 
Even groups historically inclined to approve of Obama registered a dimmer view of him since June 2013:

  • Muslims, down to 72 percent from 78 percent.

  • Jews, down to 55 percent from 64 percent.

  • No religious identity, down to 54 percent from 61 percent.

“It’s interesting to see that there are differences among the religious groups although they are not affected differently by what he does,” said Jones.
 
Indeed, the overall order of religious groups’ relative approval rating for Obama has not changed since his first inauguration in 2009, according to Gallup surveys.
 
“By and large, at this point in his presidency, people know if they like him or not although there can be movement around the margins,” said Jones.
 
The good feelings from Obama’s re-election year have dissipated in the face of recent serious challenges, the pollster said.
 
“The perception is that a lot is not getting done on the major problems the country is facing,” said Jones.
 
Jones said the real driver in approval ratings is not religion; it’s political affiliation. A religious group’s political tilt will shape its views more than Obama’s policies and actions. Mormons, for example, are largely Republican, hence their low approval rate of the president.
 
The results are drawn from aggregating 88,000 Gallup Daily tracking interviews. The margin of error varies by subgroup.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics, and manager for social media.)

7/14/2014 10:35:53 AM by Cathy Lynn Grossman, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Petition pushes vote on Houston ordinance

July 11 2014 by Bonnie Pritchett, TEXAN/Baptist Press

A coalition of pastors has delivered a petition with 31,000 signatures to Houston’s city hall to call for a referendum to repeal the city’s new non-discrimination ordinance.

The pastors say the ordinance would infringe on religious liberties and create untenable and potentially dangerous situations for women and children in public restrooms. If the petition signatures are validated by the city, the measure will be put to a vote in November.

Just days before the ordinance’s passage June 4, a number of civic and church leaders added their voice to the opposition, including Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church and former Southern Baptist Convention president; David Fleming, pastor of Champion Forest Baptist Church; and Robert Sloan, president of Houston Baptist University.

Pastors and members of African American, Vietnamese, Hispanic and Anglo congregations rallied for weeks against the ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They said Mayor Annise Parker ignored public objections to the ordinance in pursuit of a personal agenda as a lesbian.

Ordinance opponents argued the ordinance could force business owners to choose between compliance with the law or their religious convictions. They say that in opening public bathrooms to men and women presenting themselves as the opposite gender, potential sexual predators could take advantage of would-be victims.

“[W]e simply say, ‘Allow the people to vote on this ordinance,’” Max Miller, president of the Baptist Ministers Association of Houston and Vicinity, said in a July 3 news conference before presenting the signatures to City Secretary Anna Russell. Miller is pastor of Mount Hebron Missionary Baptist Church.

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A group of Houston pastors delivers 31,000 signatures for a referendum on the city’s controversial non-discrimination law that they contend infringes on religious liberties.

Miller, also representing a No UNequal Rights Coalition, said prior to the ordinance’s passage that the coalition’s polling showed 82 percent of Houston’s registered voters opposed the measure. He said 10,000 calls and emails from constituents were received by city council members demanding they vote against the measure.

The mayor cited wide public support as well, saying during a news conference that a host of civic and business leaders back the measure.

“We will have the same outcome that we had around the council table,” Parker said to cheers from supporters gathered around the podium in the city hall rotunda.

Parker called ordinance opponents “obsessive,” accusing them of fixating on only the accommodations for gay, lesbian and transgender individuals, especially their access to public bathrooms and locker rooms.

She said it always has been and will continue to be “illegal for a man to go into a women’s bathroom. Period.”

But according to opponents of the homosexual and transgender accommodations, other characteristics such as race, gender and ethnicity already are protected under city, state and federal laws, making Houston’s ordinance redundant and simply a means of adding sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of protected characteristics.

Opponents also say the ordinance provides special rights, not civil rights, hence the charge of “unequal rights.”

Parker accused the pastors of lying to promote their campaign, saying, “Houstonians will not be fooled by misinformation, hyperbole. I would use the word ‘lies’ but I’m going to back off from that.”

Parker also assailed the referendum process, calling city charter requirements a “low bar.” In order to call a referendum, 10 percent of Houston’s registered voters must sign the petition. The No UNequal Rights Coalition needed 17,269 signatures and gathered 50,000. Of those, the coalition validated 31,000.

The city secretary’s office has 30 days to cull through the signatures to determine which are valid. Parker complained that the process will cost the city money as employees will have to be paid overtime to meet an Aug. 4 deadline.

With enough validated signatures, the city of Houston’s legal department will craft the wording for the ballot.

“This is going to be another battle,” said local political consultant Ron Jackson who was hired by the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC) to direct the No UNequal Rights Coalition.

Jackson, owner of JPBE Consulting, said he expects the Parker administration to draft language putting the ordinance in the best possible light, expunging any references to its controversial tenets regarding homosexuality and transgender accommodations.

Working frequently on civic and political campaigns with Houston’s African American church leadership, Jackson created ties making him privy to the development of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance – called HERO by its supporters – prior to its public dissemination. Knowing it would be of concern to them, Jackson shared the information with the pastors.

Along with other ordinance opponents, Jackson has accused Parker of dismissing legitimate concerns and using her office to advance a personal agenda in support of the LGBT community in Houston and the nation. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a powerful international organization lobbying for so-called equal rights ordinances in cities around the country, worked in Houston for the ordinance’s passage. HRC used the same tactics in San Antonio last year in the creation and passage of an almost identical ordinance.

HBU’s Sloan, in a letter to the Greater Houston Partnership, a business consortium that endorsed the measure, wrote, “Ours is not an arbitrarily understood position, nor is it socio-politically neutral; and the proposed ordinance is not ideologically, or theologically, neutral. It attempts to coerce, by legal definition, our adherence to beliefs and practices with which we profoundly disagree.”

Anticipating Parker would press for the ordinance once elected to her third and final term as mayor, HAPC fought to unseat her in the November 2013 election. Even so, Parker defeated eight opponents, winning 57 percent of the vote.

Dave Welch, HAPC executive director, said a variety of dynamics come into play when promoting an individual for public office, including the effectiveness of a candidate’s campaign.

“If they run a terrible campaign, the churches can’t shore that up. But this is an issue, not a person,” Welch said, noting that an idea is more clearly promoted and public opinion is on their side. “We are standing on a clearly biblical, defensible position.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist Texan (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)

7/11/2014 12:48:03 PM by Bonnie Pritchett, TEXAN/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Reflections on South Sudan's third birthday

July 11 2014 by Curt Iles, IMB/Baptist Press

ENTEBBE, Uganda – His name was Independence.

He was a child born on South Sudan’s first day as a new nation. He was the first child born at a Juba hospital shortly after midnight, July 9, 2011. The child, like the country, was full of hope and promise.

His parents gave him the full name Moses Independence. Josephine, the mother, expressed high hopes for both her new son and the new country.

In fact, many South Sudanese refer to their nation as “New Sudan.

Sadly, three years later, fighting has broken out in New Sudan and the future is uncertain.

Baby Independence’s story is even sadder. He died before his first birthday. He became sick and sicker. Doctors and hospitals eventually could no longer help him.


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IMB photo by JoAnn Bradberry
A young displaced Dinka girl is photographed at Faith Baptist Church in Nimule, South Sudan. 

Baby Independence will never see his country grow into a true land of freedom and peace. It shouldn’t surprise us in South Sudan. Infant mortality is high. The average life span of a man is slightly over 54.

That’s what war, poverty and famine do to the health of a nation.

In Africa, the stats of those dying in war zones are not limited to mortars and machine guns. Many more die from malnutrition, opportunistic diseases and famine.

Dead is dead – it doesn’t have to be a bullet.

Since the December 2013 fighting broke out between the rebels and government, many have already written the obituary of New Sudan.

I imagine them saying: “If they can’t get along for no more than two years, what hope is there for this country?”

My home country, America, has been called “The Midwife of South Sudan.” Our government and aid organizations worked hard to broker the peace deal that created the world’s newest nation.

The United States has poured millions of dollars into South Sudan.

America the Midwife is now watching its baby on life support. South Sudan is on life support but where there is breath, there is life. Her breathing is shallow and fitful, but she’s alive.

David Deng, the son of a Dinka chief and an American mother, said it well: “If you’re not an optimist, you have no business being in South Sudan.”

But I believe things can change. Things can get better.

It won’t happen overnight. It won’t be easy, but progress is seldom easy or free.

I come from the rural South [in the U.S.]. In the latter 19th century, malaria, yellow fever, measles and smallpox still killed people. Infant mortality was high.

This was brought home to me one day at the oldest part of Dry Creek Cemetery as my friend Frank pointed at the weathered headstones.

“Look how every big tombstone is surrounded by small ones,” he said.

He shook his head.

“Most of the old-timers buried at least one child. Some buried many.”

He then directed me to a headstone.

“She died in childbirth,” he said. “That was all too common.”

I thought about Frank’s words when an African researcher said, “In parts of South Sudan, women view pregnancy as a possible terminal condition. They know some will not survive.”

South Sudan has a long list of problems and challenges to overcome. The recent conflict has only put the country further behind.

But there’s still life. And hope. There’s a belief (held by those optimists like our team of IMB missionaries) that things can, and will, get better. I believe it’s through changed hearts and minds that the nation will step beyond despair.

Without apology, I believe that hearts and minds are only changed by the Spirit of God coming into a person. That’s why we forge ahead.

As another tough optimist/jailbird named Paul said, “Forgetting the past and striving for the future...”

I can honestly say that there’s no part of the world I feel that we can make a difference more than in South Sudan.

It won’t be easy. Good things seldom are.

We cannot take our hands off the plow. We will not look back.

Forward. And with God’s help, better.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – International Mission Board missionary Curt Iles serves on a team working within South Sudan, and also on the Ugandan border, where tens of thousands of refugees have fled the violence.)

7/11/2014 12:31:19 PM by Curt Iles, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



When Christians killed & why Muslim violence continues

July 10 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Rising death tolls in Iraq and Syria, where Muslim extremists are killing in the name of their faith, represent a stark contrast to the relative lack of religiously motivated killing among modern Christians – a contrast that seminary professors say is attributable to the principle of religious liberty.

Religious violence declines wherever religious liberty “has been preached and practiced,” Rick Durst, professor of historical theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, told Baptist Press. He added that Baptists have played a significant role in establishing religious liberty as a tenet of modern Christianity.

Baptists “have asserted from the beginning that the gospel does not need government preference, that the conscience is inalienable and what we really need is a free church in a free state,” Durst said.


The history of Christian violence

Christians used to kill with some frequency over matters of doctrine. There was the Spanish Inquisition, Calvin’s Geneva, England’s notorious Bloody Mary, the drowning of Anabaptists, the Crusades and more.

Timothy Paul Jones, a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty member and author of Christian History Made Easy, told BP “it was the intermingling of church authority and civil authority that made it possible for persons who claimed to be Christians to have the state execute others who also professed Christ.”


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BP Photo
Anabaptists of the 16th century were among the Christians killed by fellow believers in an attempt to purify the church of heretics.

Civil and church authority first mixed in the early fourth century when the Roman emperor Constantine legalized Christianity and made it the empire’s preferred religion. Perhaps the first case of one Christian executing another occurred in the late fourth century when Emperor Magnus Maximus beheaded an eccentric ascetic named Priscillian.

Donatists – fourth- and fifth-century Christians who held that clergy who renounced their faith under persecution could never administer the sacraments again – claimed that some of their leaders were executed. But no other sources corroborate their account and it may be an embellishment, Jones noted in written comments. Donatists were persecuted and some may have died in prison without being executed.

Durst, who believes Donatists were executed, agreed that the mingling of church and civil government helped turn Christians from a persecuted sect into a power group prone to persecute.

If a state prefers one religion, “you can invoke the state to enforce [the preferred] religion, to actually attempt to force the conscience,” Durst said.

An early form of the Inquisition – a Roman Catholic movement that attempted to purge heretics from the church, at times by execution – began in the 1100s. In the mid-1200s, the Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas said heretics “deserved not only to be separated from the church but eliminated from the world.”

Jones noted that “in most instances, the church did not actually execute anyone. Instead, church officials declared someone to be a heretic. Then they handed over the offender to civil authorities to be executed.”

While condemning all killing over religious doctrine, Jones wrote that Christians “rarely, if ever, perceived themselves as killing fellow Christians.”

“Whether rightly or wrongly, they saw themselves as killing heretics who had rejected some essential aspect of the church’s faith,” said Jones, who is Southern Seminary’s Gheens Professor of Christian Family Ministry. “Many of those who did the killing as well as those they killed may not actually have been believers in Jesus Christ.”

Still, the Inquisition persisted in various forms for centuries and faithful believers were among those executed. Sixteenth-century Reformers also executed those seen as doctrinally deviant. That included the Anabaptists (European Christians who baptized by immersion) and Michael Servetus (a rival of Calvin who denied the Trinity).


Beginning of change

An initial hint of religious liberty came from Martin Luther, Jones said.

“In 1517 in the Ninety-Five Theses, Martin Luther wrote that ‘the burning of heretics is contrary to the will of the Holy Spirit,’” Jones said. “Later, Luther distinguished between mere heretics and heretics who were publicly blasphemous or caused public unrest. The latter were to be executed by the state, according to Luther, and he saw the Anabaptists as part of that latter category.”

In Luther’s wake, several key factors helped end theologically motivated killing, Jones said. Among them:

  • In the 1600s, British writers like John Milton argued for liberty to speak and act “according to conscience.” But they only applied that liberty to vying Protestant sects and not to Roman Catholics or non-Christians. The Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell, who was England’s head of state during the years when there was no monarchy, went a step further, saying he would rather “Mahometanism [Islam] be permitted amongst us than that one of God’s children should be persecuted.” After the monarchy was restored in 1689, Nonconformists, like Baptists and Congregationalists, were granted freedom of worship.

  • In continental Europe, a conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the 1600s known as the Thirty Years War took 10 million lives and involved “senseless pillaging,” Jones said. The conflict “seems to have pressed many Europeans toward a positive perspective on tolerance of persons with differing religious beliefs.”

  • In America, Maryland passed a law in 1649 allowing anyone who believed in the Trinity to practice their religion freely. Roger Williams, a theologian who “became a Baptist but then quickly became an ex-Baptist,” founded Rhode Island as a colony with religious freedom, “requiring nothing more than a belief in one God,” Jones said.

“Religious toleration emerged in post-Reformation Europe as a practical measure when governments were no longer able to enforce religious conformity. When early forms of religious toleration first emerged, it was more a temporary concession for the sake of peace than a permanent solution for the sake of freedom. But this concession eventually developed into an ideal,” Jones said.

Rex Butler, professor of church history and patristics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, cited 1648 as a key date for the end of doctrinally motivated Christian killing. That was when a series of treaties known as the Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War. He noted England’s civil war and France’s ongoing religious conflict in the 18th century as factors that led Europeans to seek an end to religious violence.

“In the aftermath of these religious conflicts, religious and philosophical thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries began to look for different ways to approach religion,” Butler wrote in comments to BP. “As Justo González, author of The Story of Christianity, posed the question: ‘Was there not a more tolerant, more profound, and even more Christian way to serve God ...?’

“The answers varied from the rationalism of the philosophical Age of Enlightenment to the heart Christianity of the Pietists and Revivalists and the separation of church and state in America. Ultimately, over the past three centuries, the modern secular state developed in Europe and America and brought with it another series of challenges for the church and the state,” he said.

Butler added that conflicts between Christians did not totally end in the 1700s. For example, the Spanish Inquisition “was not completely ended until 1834,” and Catholics and Protestants fought in Northern Ireland well into the modern era. “Since the 18th century, however, Christian wars of religion have declined,” he said.

Durst credited 16th-century Anabaptists with pioneering the idea of a free church in a free state. Baptists carried on that idea and brought it to the New World, where they helped codify it in America’s founding documents.


A great contrast

One reason Muslims persist in theologically motivated killing, including conflicts in the Middle East between Sunnis and Shiites, is that Islam does not embrace the separation of church and state, Durst said.

“Islam has always historically embraced ‘sword evangelism,’ that state and mosque are one,” Durst said.

Another contrast between Christianity and Islam is that Christians have apologized for the medieval Crusades, in which Christian armies warred against Muslims, but Muslims largely have not apologized for their religiously motivated killings, Durst said.

Durst cautioned against skeptics’ overblown portrayals of religiously motivated killings. He said non-religious governments like China and the Soviet Union “are millions and millions of violent deaths ahead of anything religion has ever done.”

The brutality of some atheist and Islamic nations should remind believers that religious liberty emerges from Christian theology, Durst said. If America loses its Judeo-Christian foundation, its citizens could lose the freedom to practice their religion, he said.

“The flower of religious liberty blooms out of the hearts of Baptist and Quaker congregations in America,” Durst said. “However, when you take that concept and ... put it into governmental documents like the Constitution and the amendments, then that concept is a bit like a cut flower. It’s been cut off from the roots but established as a principle of government. How long do cut flowers stay fresh? That’s what concerns me.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press.)

7/10/2014 11:46:19 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Criswell College names Creamer as president

July 10 2014 by Baptist Press

Barry Creamer was elected as Criswell College’s seventh president in a unanimous trustee vote July 7.

Creamer, 51, has served as Criswell’s vice president of academic affairs since 2011 and as professor of humanities since 2004. He will begin his presidency at the Dallas college on Aug. 1.

Jimmy Draper, the college’s interim president, said Creamer “has poured his life into this school for 10 years and has proven his ability as a scholar, administrator and effective leader. He has a brilliant mind with a compassionate heart. He values people and will lead by his example and with wisdom and grace. No better choice could have been made.”

Creamer has been Criswell’s chief operating officer and has managed the college’s day-to-day operations since last November when former President Jerry Johnson became president of the National Religious Broadcasters.


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Barry Creamer

Johnson, who hired Creamer for the college’s faculty in 2004, said Creamer is “the right man, at the right time, for all the right reasons. As a former Criswell student [and as a] professor and administrator, he is a Criswell man through and through. He knows and loves the college; as well, the college knows and loves him.”

Creamer said he is honored “to build on an already storied and influential foundation to lead the school through what I believe are its most promising days.”

Jim Richards, executive director of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and chairman of the presidential search committee, said Creamer understands the college’s “historic connection to the founder, Dr. W.A. Criswell. ... He has an understanding of the future of the school,” whether in expanding the curriculum or considering its optimal location in the Dallas area.

Creamer frequently comments on cultural and theological issues on the radio program he hosts, “For Christ and Culture,” on KCBI-FM in Dallas-Fort Worth. In the apologetics arena, he has spoken at numerous conferences and engaged in public debates with non-Christians. Creamer also is a trustee of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Having served churches in a variety of roles since 1982, Creamer was pastor of Woodland West Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, his hometown, from 1987 during his mid-20s until 2004. He first affiliated with Woodland West as pastor of a mission church.

Creamer earned a Ph.D. in humanities from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2000, a master of divinity degree from Criswell College in 1994 and a bachelor of arts in English from Baylor University in 1985.

While at Baylor, Creamer began a ministry to students at Texas State Technical College. During the week he knocked on doors, handed out flyers and witnessed. He preached in the campus chapel building initially once a week, expanding to three times a week until his graduation.

Creamer’s academic writing includes a chapter, “Article XIII: Stewardship,” in the 2007 academic book The Baptist Faith and Message 2000: Critical Issues in America’s Largest Protestant Denomination.

He and his wife Joan have four adult children.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by Brandon Smith, director of communications for Criswell College.)

7/10/2014 11:38:09 AM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Young evangelicals defy sexual liberalism

July 10 2014 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Young evangelical Christians are defying America’s sexual liberalism despite predictions to the contrary, two Southern Baptist ethicists say in an op-ed based on a new study.

Some Americans outside conservative Christianity have forecast young evangelicals soon will reject the church’s standards and join the culture in its liberal views on such issues as same-sex marriage, premarital sex and gender identity, Russell D. Moore and Andrew Walker wrote July 9 in a piece at National Review Online. That is not what research by a University of Texas sociologist indicates, they say.

A study by Mark Regnerus, an author and associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas-Austin, suggests “churchgoing Evangelical Christians are retaining orthodox views on Biblical sexuality, despite the shifts in broader American culture,” Moore and Walker wrote. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and Walker is the ERLC’s director of policy studies.

Among the study’s findings, according to Moore and Walker, are:

  • Only 11 percent of evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 39 say they support same-sex marriage, while a “solid majority” of self-identified atheists, agnostics, liberal Catholics and liberal Protestations back it.

  • About six percent of evangelicals support abortion rights, while more than 70 percent of their non-believing peers agree with such rights.

  • Only five percent of evangelicals believe cohabitation by unmarried couples is acceptable, but about 70 percent of those who are religiously unaffiliated or consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” agree with cohabitation.

The study’s results are both encouraging and unsurprising, given evangelicals’ identification with Christ, Moore and Walker wrote.

The research suggests younger evangelicals “aren’t hewing to the culture’s expectation that they conform to its values,” they wrote in the National Review piece. “That’s a welcome reality, especially given the significant cultural pressures that young Christians face in today’s culture.”

Moore and Walker wrote, “As American culture secularizes, the most basic Christian tenets seem ever more detached from mainstream American culture. Those who identify with Christianity, and who gather with the people of God, have already decided to walk out of step with the culture. ... Evangelical views on sexuality seem strange, but young Evangelicals in post-Christianizing America have already embraced strangeness by spending Sunday morning at church rather than at brunch.”

Sexuality is not incidental to Christianity, they say.

“Marriage and sex point, the Bible says, to a picture of the gospel itself, the union of Christ and his church,” Moore and Walker wrote. “This is why the Bible spends so much time, as some critics would put it, ‘obsessed’ with sex. That’s why, historically, churches that liberalize on sex tend to liberalize themselves right out of Christianity itself.”

Moore and Walker acknowledged the cultural shift.

“The Sexual Revolution marches on, but it doesn’t move forward without dissent,” they wrote. “On any given Sunday morning, in your community, young Evangelicals are telling America that a sexual counter-revolution is ready to be born, again.”

The results of his research, Regnerus says, “suggest that while a modest minority of Evangelicals under 40 profess what we might call more sexually liberal attitudes, it’s not a significant minority,” according to Moore and Walker’s op-ed.

The study identifies an evangelical as someone who attends an evangelical Christian church weekly.

Regnerus shared part of his research in a presentation at the ERLC’s April leadership summit on the Gospel and sexuality. The study surveyed more than 15,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 60, but Regnerus focused on respondents younger than 40. The entire study will be released in September.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)

7/10/2014 11:23:17 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over gay discrimination order

July 9 2014 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – President Obama’s faith-based advisers are coming down on different sides of a debate over a pending executive order that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation among federal contractors.

The dividing line: Should the directive contain a religious exemption?

The latest entreaty to the White House about banning Lesbain, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) discrimination includes four former members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.


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Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
President Barack Obama passes an honor guard as he walks to Marine One at Caen-Carpiquet Airport for departure to Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, June 6, 2014. President Obama is receiving mixed reactions among his faith advisors on the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation among federal contractors.

“An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination,” wrote the more than 100 signatories to a July 8 letter to the president.

Signatories opposed to an exemption include Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; Fred Davie, executive vice president of Union Theological Seminary; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Metropolitan Community Churches Moderator Nancy Wilson.

A week earlier, a letter signed by three former advisory council members and Obama’s former chief liaison to evangelicals asked the president to include an exemption for religious groups.

“A religious exemption would simply maintain that religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious beliefs,” they wrote in the July 1 letter to Obama.

Signers of that letter included, among others, Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter; the Rev. Larry Snyder, CEO of Catholic Charities USA; and the Rev. Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association; as well as former evangelical liaison Michael Wear.

The dueling opinions come a week after the Supreme Court’s controversial Hobby Lobby ruling that found some religious owners of family businesses did not have to abide by the Obama administration’s contraception mandate. Obama’s original contraception mandate exempted explicitly religious groups such as churches, but affiliated institutions like hospitals and colleges are now suing for a similar exemption.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman, said he did not have details on when the executive order might be released. “We continue to hear from interested groups on this issue,” he said.

The diversity of religious views represented among past faith-based advisers reflects the current range of opinion on how Obama should move forward on LGBT government regulations, which are considered the next front in the fight over government rules about employment.

Before the Hobby Lobby decision, more than 150 mostly evangelical leaders signed a June 25 letter urging Obama to “protect the rights of faith-based organizations that simply desire to utilize staffing practices consistent with their deep religious convictions.” They suggested specific language that was similar to the Senate version of the long-stalled Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

That request followed a letter from 90 organizations asking the Obama administration to end the Bush-era policy of permitting federally funded religious groups to hire and fire based on a person’s faith.

7/9/2014 2:05:41 PM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



Marchers unite for traditional marriage

July 9 2014 by Baptist Press/World News Service

WASHINGTON – Elaine Soto and her family left at 3 a.m. one morning to come to the March for Marriage in Washington. She brought her four children to “open their eyes to the fact ... they don't have to be embarrassed or ashamed even if what they believe is not politically correct.”
 
Jack McGill, along with his wife of 22 years, Diane, and their two children drove 600 miles to D.C. for the second time this year to attend a protest – the first was the March for Life.
 
In both cases, McGill said he came to “support God's truth.” He hopes Congress will pass a marriage amendment. “That truth [of biblical marriage] is engraved on everyone's heart from creation,” McGill, of Detroit, Mich., said.

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This year marks the second annual marriage march to ask Congress to define marriage according to traditional, biblical standards. The marchers this year included people of different ages, races, religions, and cultures, all united under the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. They gathered Thursday on the Capitol lawn to let politicians know the fight for marriage is not over.
 
“We are not under an obligation to defy God to obey you,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said at the June 19 rally, speaking to the government in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act last year. That law provided a federal definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Currently, states can decide whether or not to allow gay marriage – 19 have overruled homosexual marriage bans and now allow same-sex unions. But legal challenges have been filed in every state that bans same-sex marriage, and the issue eventually will end up back before the Supreme Court.
 
With gay marriage continuing to gain momentum and acceptance in the nation's culture, Joe Grabowski, director of communications for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), said standing for the biblical definition of marriage “can feel like a very lonely position.” NOM organized the march to bring people together. Last year, roughly 7,000 attended. This year, organizers estimated as many as 10,000 joined the procession.
 
“It's really nice to see you're not the only one out there,” Karlene Carkhuff, who attended the march with her family both years, said. She pointed to her daughters and said, “These girls need to see they're not alone.”
 
Carkhuff and her daughters marched with monks in gray cloaks, priests in collars, and Jews in heavy black suits. Chinese marchers shared the shade with African Americans.
 
A group of Hispanic marchers, stretching across a city block, blew horns and whistles and gave shouts of praise as they marched onto the lawn. They cheered wildly when Ruben Diaz, a pastor and New York state senator, rallied them in Spanish.
 
From the podium, speakers proclaimed the message that marriage is more than just a romance or a relationship between two people.
 
“The family unit is not arbitrarily defined by man as he pleases, but by nature,” Alfonso Aguilar, with the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, said. “One of its defining objectives is the procreation and upbringing of children.”
 
The first March for Marriage took place on March 26, 2013, the day the Supreme Court heard arguments over California's marriage amendment, commonly referred to as Proposition 8. Thursday's procession stretched around the Capitol and stopped traffic. The crowd marched to the Supreme Court building behind a banner proclaiming “Every Child Deserves a Mom & a Dad” while singing hymns such as “Amazing Grace.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Emily Scheie & Rikki Elizabeth Stinnette are writers for WORLD Magazine. This article is used by permission from WORLD News Service.)

7/9/2014 1:50:25 PM by Baptist Press/World News Service | with 0 comments



Boko Haram’s Islamic motives ‘ignored’

July 9 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

ABUJA, Nigeria – The United States and other western nations have ignored the religious motivation of the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram and must understand the theological dynamics in Nigeria in order to curb terrorism in the western African country, the archbishop of Nigeria’s Anglican Church told Baptist Press.
 
For a long time, “the United States did not come out to say anything about Boko Haram,” Nicholas Okoh, primate of the Church of Nigeria, said in an interview. “They kept talking about economic problems, [saying] that Boko Haram is fighting because of economic problems. That is not true ... The United States deliberately ignored the fundamental issues of religious ideology.”
 
Based in northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram has killed an estimated 10,000 people since 2002 with an escalation in murders recently. In April the group received wide media coverage for kidnapping 273 schoolgirls, 219 of whom remain missing and may be enslaved as wives of Muslim men. Loosely translated, the phrase Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful.”

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Nicholas Okoh, a leader in the worldwide conservative Anglican movement, urged the U.S. government to support the Nigerian government “strongly” in its fight against terrorism so that it can “combat Boko Haram to a standstill” and force peaceful negotiation.

 

Boko Haram’s two central beliefs are that western-style education should be abolished from Nigeria and that the nation should be governed by Sharia law, an Islamic system of government based on the Koran that imposes, among other things, harsh penalties on Muslims who convert to Christianity. According to one estimate, Nigeria is 50 percent Muslim and 48 percent Christian.
 
The U.S. State Department’s 2013 announcement to the media that it had designated Boko Haram as a terrorist organization said only that it is “a Nigeria-based militant group with links to al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb.” The announcement contained no further mention of Islam or Sharia but did reference “the legitimate concerns of the people of northern Nigeria.”
 
Okoh, a leader in the worldwide conservative Anglican movement, acknowledged northern Nigeria faces economic problems and injustice, but he said such problems are not isolated to one region of the country. In addition, Boko Haram has never expressed economic motivations or claimed to be fighting for justice in northern Nigeria, he said.
 
“Some of the economic facilities, employment opportunities are visible in the northeast,” Okoh said. “Boko Haram has destroyed all of them. So if they were actually interested in economic progress, they would not go around destroying what offered some economic succor to our people.”
 
Okoh urged the U.S. government to support the Nigerian government “strongly” in its fight against terrorism so that it can “combat Boko Haram to a standstill” and force peaceful negotiation. He admitted though that negotiation cannot occur if Boko Haram continues to demand only universal Sharia law and an end to western-style education.
 
Among the indications that negotiation may be impossible are Boko Haram’s statement that it will not talk to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan unless he converts to Islam and the group’s statement that the government has no authority to offer it amnesty, Okoh said. Boko Haram regards itself as the reigning power with authority to offer the government amnesty, he added.
 
Okoh also said neighboring countries must stop funding Boko Haram.
 
Currently the Nigerian government is using "moderated force" without conducting a full scale military operation against the terrorist group, Okoh said. The goal, he noted, is to determine Boko Haram’s agenda more fully and draw them into discussions.
 
Meanwhile, Nigeria’s Christians have prayed, fasted and held meetings with their Muslim neighbors. But neither Christians nor moderate Muslims have been able to curtail Boko Haram violence, Okoh said.
 
“God created every human being equal and free,” he said. “Boko Haram tries to deny people freedom – freedom of worship and freedom of the expression of their religion. This is not what God asks us to do. Religion is a gift of God, and people should be allowed to express it. Therefore, forceful abduction of people or forceful conversion is outside God’s will ... God does not force us to follow Him. He only makes us willing to follow Him.”
 
No one should think Boko Haram is serving God, Okoh said, especially in light of its kidnapping of children.
 
“Children are precious in the sight of God,” he said. “And to go to a school and abduct children and take them into the bush and to divert the course of their destiny is something we think is against God.”
 
Okoh asked Christians in America and other western nations to understand Nigeria’s plight and call on their governments to help.
 
“Christians in the West first of all need to encourage western governments to see Boko Haram as a very deadly terrorist organization...,” Okoh said. “And they also need to support the government of Nigeria in every way possible so that the government will be able to combat Boko Haram.”
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

7/9/2014 1:41:20 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Hands get dirty to help flood victims in Serbia

July 9 2014 by Marc Ira Hooks, IMB/Baptist Press

BELGRADE, Serbia – While many will spend their summer vacation on beaches or in amusement parks, a handful of Southern Baptists will spend their time knee-deep in mud to help rebuild lives destroyed by floodwaters.
 
This summer, unusual amounts of rain in the Balkan region of Europe – specifically in Bosnia and Serbia – have caused devastating floods, leaving thousands homeless. Flood victims tell stories of how floodwaters broke through local dams, leaving residents with only minutes to evacuate.
 
They now spend their days sorting through the remnants of their lives, searching for anything that can be salvaged. 

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IMB photo by Marc Ira Hooks
An Orthodox prayer book hangs out on a fence to dry in one Serbian village.

“It was devastating,” Marina, one homeowner, said through her tears. “When I got here and saw what remained of my house, my whole world collapsed. I could not believe it. I had a nice house and a nice life, but now I am left with.”
 
Marina, a widow with two teenage boys, represents just one of dozens of families in an area outside of Belgrade where Baptist Global Response volunteers, alongside International Mission Board (IMB) workers, are helping people rebuild their lives.
 
IMB worker Jim Andrews* has helped to coordinate much of the cleanup and recovery work in the area. “People here are at a point of desperation,” he said. “They are grabbing at straws, or whatever they can, for hope.”
 
Andrews said that is where the work of Baptist Global Response (BGR) comes into play. In addition to providing funding and resources, BGR also helps to activate and coordinate volunteers who are trained in disaster response and are willing to come to the field on short notice.
 
Jim and Samantha (Sam) Barrow, a father-daughter team from Longville, La., said they heard about the need for volunteers while they were attending the wedding of a friend.
 
“In the middle of the wedding we both got an email that came to our phones,” Sam Barrow said. “So when we were on the way to the reception, I looked at Dad and said, ‘So, are we going?’”
 
Before the wedding was over the pair decided they would commit to go, and they had less than two weeks to raise funding before flying to Serbia.
 
Gary Capshaw, a veteran of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma's Disaster Relief efforts, served as team leader for the BGR volunteer team. “If you want to see the church come alive, come and do disaster relief,” he said. “If you don't get off your pew and get out into the field, then you will never know how alive the church is.”
 
Capshaw and the Barrows were joined by David and Joanne Hendon of Jasper, Ala., who recently retired and decided they would go on mission trips as a couple.
 
Joanne Hendon said she has always felt her spiritual gift was to serve others. “When I found out about this need, I knew that I was supposed to be the hands of feet of Jesus,” she said.
 
IMB’s Andrews said the group spent a week in less than ideal conditions as they helped numerous families.
 
“When the flood waters came, they also overflowed the sewage system, so it was not just the water that came into people's homes, it was sewage too,” he said. “There was almost nothing that could be salvaged because of that.”
 
Volunteers had to do some “really disgusting” work, he said. “Yet they did it with a smile on their faces.”
 
Marina and others said they have trouble understanding why a group of Americans would want to come to Serbia to help them. Yet they are grateful for the assistance.
 
“I don't know what we would have done if they had not come,” Marina said. “I will always remember the day the Americans showed up to help.”
 
To volunteer or give to Baptist Global Response, go to www.gobgr.org.

To watch a video of SBC volunteers working in Serbia click here or play video below.
 
*Names changed.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Marc Ira Hooks is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Europe.)
 

7/9/2014 12:31:57 PM by Marc Ira Hooks, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments



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