July 2014

Baptists among 33 top young evangelicals

July 3 2014 by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Four young Southern Baptists are among Christianity Today's "33 Under 33," a list of 33 millennial Christians featured in the magazine's most recent cover story who are shaping the church and culture.
To counteract the theory that Millennials are leaving the faith, Christianity Today showcased those who are leading it. They spoke with ministry leaders and other influential leaders to develop their list.


Elect Saira Blair to House Facebook page, Reach Records, Baptist Press, dahorton.com photos
Clockwise from top left: Saira Blair, Trevin Wax, D.A. Horton and Trip Lee. All of these are Southern Baptists listed among Christianity Today’s “33 Under 33,” a list of millennial Christians shaping the church and culture.

Trevin Wax, Trip Lee, Saira Blair and D.A. Horton were noted as being among those who are influencing the church today and embody what it will look like in the future.
Wax, 33 years old and a member of a Southern Baptist church near Nashville, is managing editor of The Gospel Project, a Bible Study curriculum from LifeWay Christian Resources, and author of four books. He is also a prominent blogger, writing daily at Kingdom People.
Lee, after four solo studio albums with Lecrae's Reach Records, decided to take time away from the music industry to concentrate on pastoral ministry and writing. Formerly a student a Boyce College, the 26-year-old is now a senior pastoral assistant at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
Blair, part of The Church at Martinsburg (W.Va.), recently won a primary to become her district's Republican candidate for the West Virginia House of Delegates without one very important vote -- her own. At only 17, she is seeking to become the youngest state legislator in West Virginia history.
Horton, 33, a former rap artist and urban church planter, is now the national coordinator for urban student missions for the North American Mission Board. He also serves as the executive director for ReachLife Ministries, the non-profit outreach of Reach Records.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Aaron Earls is a writer for LifeWay Christian Resources.)

7/3/2014 11:49:56 AM by Aaron Earls, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Persecution: Reports from Sudan, Nigeria and Laos

July 3 2014 by Baptist Press Staff

KHARTOUM, Sudan (BP) -- Persecuted Sudanese Christian Meriam Ibrahim is staying at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, for her safety, she told CNN by phone, and is unable to leave the country that in May condemned her to torture and death because of her faith.
Ibrahim also said doctors have told her that Maya, the baby she delivered in May in a Sudanese prison, may never be able to walk because Ibrahim was forced to undergo childbirth with her legs chained.
"Something has happened to the baby," she told CNN. "I don't know in the future whether she'll need support to walk or not. I couldn't open my legs so the women had to lift me off the table. I wasn't lying on the table."
Ibrahim remains shrouded in controversy after a Sudanese appeals court overturned her death sentence and released her from prison June 23, only to be rearrested a day later as she tried to leave the country. About 40 Sudanese police officers seized her at the Khartoum airport, accusing her of trying to flee Sudan with falsified papers. She has been released from jail on the latest charge, but has been forbidden to leave the country, according to news reports.
"It's my right to use the papers and have a South Sudanese passport because my husband is a South Sudanese citizen. He has an American passport and South Sudanese passport. I never forged any papers," she told CNN.
Ibrahim remains committed to her Christian faith but is afraid for her life and unsure of her next move, CNN reported Tuesday (July 1).


Ibrahim was born to a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother, but her father disappeared from her life when she was 6 years old. Though her mother reared her as a Christian, Islamic law asserts she is Muslim by birth because her father was Muslim.
Ibrahim's marriage to a Daniel Wani, a Christian, is treated as adultery under Islam's sharia law, leading to the sentence of 100 lashes and death. Authorities reportedly had planned to carry out the whipping, then the execution, after Ibrahim nursed her daughter to age 2. She and her husband also have a 21-month-old son Martin.
Ibrahim's persecution is the latest evidence of Sudan's standing as one of the world's worst violators of religious liberty. The State Department has listed the militant Islamic regime among its "countries of particular concern" (CPC) since 1999, the first year such designations were made by the U.S. government. Eight countries currently are on the CPC list.


Khartoum church bulldozed by law

Members of the Sudanese Church of Christ in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, watched helplessly June 30 as security forces bulldozed the church, one day after authorities ordered worshippers to vacate the building, Morning Star News reported.
About 70 security personnel armed with guns and tear gas participated in the demolition and threatened to arrest anyone who interfered, witnesses said, but no one was physically harmed.
The church structure was built in 1983 and has documents showing the church owns the land, pastor Kwa Shamal told Morning Star News. Authorities refused to compensate the church for the land and said the location was designated for a hospital.
The congregation of 430 is forced to worship in tents. A nearby Muslim mosque remained.
"Even if they destroy this church building, our God is still good all the time," a church member told Morning Star News. "We the believers are the real church. We are asking you to continue to pray for us because of the great challenge we are facing."


Boko Haram continues onslaught in Nigeria

Islamic extremists Boko Haram destroyed four churches and killed more than 30 Christians June 29 near Chibok, the town where more than 200 mostly Christian school girls were kidnapped and remain missing, the Associated Press reported.
The Protestant Church of Christ in Nigeria, the Pentecostal Deeper Life Bible Church and the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria were three of those attacked, AP reported.
"They killed dozens of people and burned houses after attacking worshippers," the AP quoted survivor Mallam Yahi as recounting. At least 30 bodies were recovered but more bodies reportedly were being found.
Boko Haram has launched near daily attacks in and around Chibok since the April kidnapping of 273 schoolgirls, 219 of whom remain captured. Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan reported a month ago that the government had located the girls, but that trying to capture them would endanger their lives.
Nigeria leaders are denying Boko Haram's widely reported June 21 abduction of 60 girls and women and 31 boys from the village of Kummabza, about 100 miles from the Borno state capital of Maiduguri. The New York Times and Associated Press were among news outlets reporting the latest kidnapping and said toddlers as young as 3 had been taken, based on accounts of vigilantes trying to protect citizens from Boko Haram.
Several prominent Nigerians questioned whether the June abductions had taken place, including first lady Patience Jonathan, who claimed the reports were fabricated to discredit her husband's administration, the AP reported.
Boko Haram has killed hundreds and destroyed nearly 40 churches since the April kidnapping, according to news reports. While official numbers are not available, estimates place the number of killings since April at nearly 1,000.


Laotian Christians arrested after praying for sick woman

Authorities in a Laotian village have charged a pastor and four church members with murder after they prayed for a sick woman who later died, Morning Star News reported June 29, based on reports from the Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
"I believe the authorities are trying to find every way they possibly can in order to stop the spread of Christian religious freedom in the area," an HRWLRF representative told Morning Star News.
"Mrs. Chan came -- in April -- to Kaithong, the leader of the Saisomboon village church, to be prayed for, and she apparently became well for a short time," the HRWLRF representative said, requesting anonymity. "She then embraced the Christian faith. Then, she suddenly passed away on June 21. The police authorities charged Kaithong as well as the other four Christians/leaders who were present at the funeral of murder because she passed away."
The HRWLRF has demanded the immediate release of the Christians, who are being held in the Atsaphangthong district prison.
The Lao government ratified in 2009 the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, upholding the right to choose and practice a religion of choice, according to the HRWLRF, but has refused to uphold the covenant. Only 3.4 percent of Laotians are Christian, according to Operation World, compared to 57 percent Buddhist and 35 percent indigenous religion adherents.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Compiled by Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

7/3/2014 11:38:13 AM by Baptist Press Staff | with 0 comments

After Hobby Lobby ruling, leaders rally around RFRA

July 2 2014 by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (BP) -- A diverse coalition of church and synagogue leaders has penned a letter to congressional leaders asking them to renew support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
Citing the Supreme Court's ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and other leaders from around the country expressed concern that the 1993 law guaranteeing religious rights from overt government intrusion may soon come under attack because of its role in the June 30 landmark case.
In the letter addressed to Speaker of the House John Boehner, R.-Ohio, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D.-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky., the signatories asked congressional leaders to stand firm against efforts to "amend or repeal RFRA, one of our nation's most vital legal protections for the religious freedom and rights of conscience of every person of every faith."
"Changing RFRA because some disagree with one particular application of the law would set a dark precedent by undermining the fundamental principle of religious freedom for all, even for those whose religious beliefs may be unpopular at the moment. Congress has never passed legislation with the specific purpose of reducing Americans' religious freedom. It should not consider doing so now," the letter reads.


Hobby Lobby storefront

The Supreme Court, in its ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, Mardel and Conestoga Wood Specialties, held that RFRA allows "closely-held" or family owned companies to establish administrative policies and business practices in line with their religious convictions.
In this case, those beliefs caused the Green and Hahn families, owners of the three businesses, to resist federal mandates in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to provide abortion-inducing contraceptives in their health insurance plans. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the opinion for the majority, noted this is precisely the scenario for which RFRA was designed.
In RFRA, Congress provided protection for people like the defendants "by employing a familiar legal fiction: It included corporations within RFRA's definition of 'persons,'" Alito wrote. "But it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of this fiction is to provide protection for human beings. A corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends."
Alito noted, "When rights, whether constitutional or statutory, are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of these people."
Protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga and Mardel "protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies," Alito wrote.
According to the letter from religious leaders, the nation's high court rightly affirmed that all Americans - including family business owners - are guaranteed religious liberty as they live and, importantly, work.
"When President Clinton signed RFRA into law over twenty years ago, he finalized the work of overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the United States House and Senate. Only three Members of Congress voted against RFRA. Not one of Congress's 535 Members suggested that this landmark new law would not protect a person's free exercise of religion if she chose to provide for herself, her family, and her employees by starting a business," the letter stated.
"In the United States, freedom of religion has always included -- and should always include -- the right to live out one's religion and act according to one's conscience outside the walls of one's house of worship. Every single day, millions of Americans are motivated by their faith to go and serve the neediest among us. The good works of these individuals of faith can be seen in soup kitchens, hospitals, schools, hospices -- and, yes, family-owned businesses.
"For over two decades, RFRA has protected Americans of all faiths from government coercion. Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, and others all benefit when powerful government officials know that, as President Bill Clinton stated when he signed RFRA, government must meet 'a very high level of proof before it interferes with someone's free exercise of religion.'"
Moore, in a conference call with reporters June 30, said Alito's use of the RFRA in the Supreme Court ruling was a "rebuke" that had "knocked back any objections in the strongest terms."
"Christians should see this as not just a win for Christians. The Greens  are Baptists and the Hahns  are Mennonites. But this is a win for religious liberty for all people," Moore said. "A government that can pave over the consciences of the Greens and the Hahns is a government that can do anything."
Moore also told reporters that religious liberty should be "absolutely non-controversial in America," but he admitted that two different visions of religious liberty are in play in the country. One of those was expressed by Alito in his opinion for the court's majority. The other was expressed by the White House following the ruling.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a White House press briefing that the president believes in religious liberty but doesn't believe the owners of for-profit companies should be "allowed to assert their personal religious views to deny their employees federally mandated benefits."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also said in a statement following the court's decision that the ruling will "immediately affect the lives of millions of women across the country" because of the language Alito used in the ruling. She also said not providing abortion-inducing drugs to employees violated the "religious rights" of workers.
"Over 90 percent of the America's businesses are 'closely-held,' including such large employers as Koch Industries and Bechtel," Pelosi said in her statement. "Women should not be forced to jump through extra hoops to secure the fundamental health care they need. Allowing employers and CEOs to limit the health care available to employees is a gross violation of their workers' religious rights. It's just not her boss's business."
The Supreme Court's ruling in the Hobby Lobby case is already having an impact in the lower courts, where nearly 100 cases challenging the contraceptive mandate of the ACA/Obamacare are in play.
Several religious organizations, including the Eternal Word Television Network and five Catholic institutions in Wyoming, all of which were scheduled to pay IRS fines July 1 for not complying with federal mandates for abortion-inducing contraceptives, were granted "emergency relief" immediately following the Hobby Lobby decision, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
In a press release, the Becket Fund said organizations like Eternal Word "can now freely practice what they preach."
"The death knell is sounding for the HHS Mandate," Lori Windham, senior counsel at the Becket Fund and counsel for Eternal Word, said in the statement. "The ruling in Hobby Lobby and then these two rulings in quick succession show that the HHS Mandate is on its last legs when it comes to religious non-profits. The sad part is that it has taken almost three years of litigation to get to a result the administration should have supported in the first place because it is the right thing to do. Government shouldn't be in the business of forcing nuns to violate their religious convictions."
The five Wyoming Catholic entities provided emergency relief are the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne, Catholic Charities of Wyoming, St. Joseph's Children's Home, St. Anthony Tri-Parish Catholic School, and Wyoming Catholic College, according to the statement from the Becket Fund.
The Supreme Court also issued a temporary injunction protecting Wheaton College while it appeals the government's ACA contraceptive mandate.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is not the first major defeat for the Obama administration with respect to religious liberty. In 2012, the administration lost in Hosana-Tabor v. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. In that case, the administration attempted to determine what the qualifications were for a minister within a religious organization. The Supreme Court ruled it could not interfere in employment cases decided upon religious grounds.
In addition to Moore of the ERLC, signatories to the letter to congressional leaders asking for renewed protection of the 1993 RFRA included:

  • Matthew C. Harrison, president, The Lutheran ChurchùMissouri Synod

  • Rabbi Leonard Matanky, president, and Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president, The Rabbinical Council of America

  • Joseph E. Kurtz, archbishop of Louisville and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

  • Charles E. Blake Sr., presiding bishop, Church of God in Christ

  • Gary E. Stevenson, presiding bishop, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

  • George O. Wood, general superintendent, Assemblies of God, USA

  • Nathan J. Diament, executive director for public policy, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America

  • Dwayne O. Leslie, director of legislative affairs, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists

  • L. Roy Taylor, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America

(EDITOR’S NOTE - Gregory Tomlin is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.)

7/2/2014 12:38:03 PM by Gregory Tomlin, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Analysis: Nuns may not beat contraception mandate

July 2 2014 by David Gibson, Religion News Service

When the Supreme Court on June 30 issued a split decision narrowly backing the right of for-profit corporations to deny contraception coverage to their employees for religious reasons, many assumed that faith-based nonprofits would have it easy when their own cases eventually reach the high court.
“The death knell is sounding for the HHS mandate,” said Lori Windham, an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns, as well as other religious groups that object to the Health and Human Services Department policy requiring birth control coverage.
Windham noted that in two rulings by lower courts on Monday, several of Becket’s faith-based clients received last-minute relief to shield them from complying with the mandate, which takes effect July 1.
“The ruling in Hobby Lobby and then these two rulings in quick succession show that the HHS mandate is on its last legs when it comes to religious nonprofits,” Windham said.
Yet many analysts say that in fact what worked for Hobby Lobby — the national craft store giant owned by the Green family, who are evangelical Christians — may not necessarily work for the Little Sisters, who operate nursing homes for the poor around the country.
The nuns are the main plaintiff for a range of religious nonprofits and institutions who argue, in cases that paralleled the claims of for-profit businesses, that complying with the Obama administration’s mandate to provide free birth control coverage would violate their religious freedom because they object to contraception.


Public domain image
The Little Sisters of the Poor organization was founded in the 1840s by Jeanne Jugan. Its members take four vows, those of chastity, poverty, obedience and hospitality.


So when those cases reach the Supreme Court, why wouldn’t the Little Sisters eventually receive the same treatment, or even greater deference, than a corporation like Hobby Lobby or Conestoga Wood Specialties, its Mennonite-owned co-plaintiff?
The key difference is that the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) has already offered an accommodation to faith-based nonprofits that allows them to sign a waiver giving a third-party administrator permission to take care of the birth control coverage, with no further involvement by the religious group.
The Little Sisters and others argue that even signing such a waiver entangles them in something they view as morally objectionable. (Hobby Lobby and other plaintiffs do not object to contraception per se but are concerned about what they say is mandated coverage of abortion-causing drugs.)
But Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the majority in Monday’s 5-4 decision, suggested that the accommodation offered to religious groups could have been a fine solution if provided to for-profit corporations as well.
“That accommodation does not impinge on the plaintiffs’ religious beliefs that providing insurance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion and it still serves HHS’s stated interests,” Alito wrote.
That in fact was the same argument made by Hobby Lobby’s lawyers in oral arguments before the Supreme Court in March — a move that prompted Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter to suggest at the time that if the justices accepted that line of reasoning, “religious organizations will not have a leg to stand on.”
After the decision came down on Monday, Winters said that in fact that’s just what happened.
Writing for Religion News Service, Mark Silk, director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College, also predicted in March that the justices would decide as they did this week — and on Monday he wrote that if they follow their logic when the faith-based groups come before them, the Little Sisters et al. could be in trouble.
The key factors are twofold, Silk explained:
One is that the majority based their decision on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, of 1993, which requires that the state must have a “compelling interest” if it is to infringe on religious rights, and it must use “the least restrictive means” possible.
The majority essentially assumed, but did not rule, that the government did have a compelling interest in providing birth control coverage to women. But the five justices said the government could find a better, less restrictive way to accomplish that goal, like paying outright for the coverage.
Yet Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a concurring opinion, pointedly noted that “the means to reconcile those two priorities are at hand in the existing accommodation.”
And Kennedy is the second factor clouding prospects for the nuns and others, because he is considered the swing vote on the court, and when the Little Sisters’ case comes up he could swing the other way.
In fact, the Hobby Lobby decision, Silk predicted, “will prove to be a significant setback for the Catholic bishops and other free exercise maximalists, a good omen for contraception coverage advocates, and a fine result for those interested in a reasonable balance of the interests at hand.”
University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, a leading religious freedom expert, agreed that the court’s suggestion “that the government’s accommodation for nonprofits is a less restrictive means for the for-profits does not bode well for the nonprofits.”
“The court specifically does not decide the claims of religious nonprofits who don’t even want to send the form claiming the objection,” Laycock said. “But I would not be optimistic about that claim.”
At Mirror of Justice, a Catholic legal blog, University of St. Thomas law professor Thomas Berg welcomed the ruling but also predicted that the majority opinion and Kennedy’s concurrence “imply that some form of the nonprofit accommodation will be held a permissible solution.”
And at First Things, a conservative journal of religion and politics, St. John’s University law professor Mark Movsesian conceded that “the language here is a bit opaque and may cause trouble in future.”
On the other hand, Kim Daniels, a former spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and an attorney specializing in religious freedom issues, contended that there was “strong language” in the majority opinion supporting the claims of religious nonprofits like the Little Sisters.
Daniels also did not read Kennedy’s opinion as undermining that stance.
“I think that worries about Justice Kennedy’s opinion are misplaced,” Daniels, now a senior adviser to Catholic Voices USA, wrote in an email. “I find it hard to believe that Justice Kennedy would confirm RFRA protection for for-profit corporations, but not for the Little Sisters of the Poor and others like them.”
Daniels and others also noted that the majority also explicitly refused to engage the underlying religious claims being made by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga — claims that would be central to the arguments by the Little Sisters and others, and which could underpin a ruling in their favor.
Or not.
Ira Lupu, George Washington University law school professor emeritus, essentially threw up his hands and called the impact of the ruling on the Little Sisters case “completely uncertain” — a view that was probably more widespread than any claims about what the justices will, or will not, rule when the faith-based nonprofits come before the high court.

7/2/2014 12:28:01 PM by David Gibson, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

Pro-gay pastor attends White House event

July 2 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (BP) -- The Los Angeles-area Baptist pastor whose church split after he announced he no longer believes all homosexual acts are sinful was President Obama's guest at the White House LGBT Pride Month reception June 30.
Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., attended the reception with his son Drew, who Cortez said in a Feb. 9 sermon is gay.
At the reception, Obama acknowledged open homosexuals serving in his administration and said 11 openly gay federal judges have been confirmed by the Senate, including 10 during his administration.


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama exit Marine One June 16 on the White House South Lawn following a trip to California. On June 30, President Obama hosted an LGBT Pride Month reception. Danny Cortez, pastor of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., attended the reception with his son Drew, who Cortez said in a Feb. 9 sermon is gay.

"This tremendous progress we've made as a society is thanks to those of you who fought the good fight, and to Americans across the country who marched and came out and organized to secure the rights of others," Obama said at the reception. "So I want to thank all of you for making the United States a more just and compassionate place. I want to thank you for offering support and guidance to our administration. Because of your help, we've gone further in protecting the rights of lesbian and gay and bisexual and transgender Americans than any administration in history."
New Heart Community Church voted May 18 on four options following Cortez's announcement in February of his newfound position on homosexuality: terminate him and maintain the traditional view that homosexuality is sinful; take more time to consider the issue; establish New Heart as a "third way" church, neither affirming or condemning homosexuality but "agreeing to disagree"; or become a fully gay-affirming church.
After two rounds of voting, no option received the two-thirds majority that the congregation had agreed would be necessary. Amid unresolvable deadlock, the church divided into two groups, holding their final service together June 8.
The group who voted to maintain a traditional Christian stance includes about 40 people and is considering whether to constitute as a church or disband. The traditional group includes three of New Heart's four elders -- Cortez being the fourth -- and continues to meet in the facility New Heart rented from a sister church.
Cortez's group, meanwhile, is retaining the name "New Heart Community Church" and the articles of incorporation. The group includes about 50 people and will meet in two private residences over the summer with plans to rent property in the future.
"The entire process was very painful and is probably the most bizarre experience I have experienced in my Christian life," former New Heart elder Cass Bensberg wrote previously in an email to the SBC Executive Committee. "We parted peacefully on June 8th although there are many who are still processing all that occurred."
The Executive Committee could address issues related to New Heart during its meeting in September. A motion related to New Heart at the SBC annual meeting in June was ruled out of order because it directed SBC officers to take action prohibited by Article IV of the SBC Constitution.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

7/2/2014 12:20:01 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Iorg to seminary grads: 'Stay humble'

July 2 2014 by Tyler Sanders, GGBTS/Baptist Press

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP) -- Ministers must work hard but realize that God alone opens and closes doors for serving Christ, Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, said in spring commencement.
"Work hard, stay humble, hold to the Word of God and talk a lot about Jesus Christ," Iorg said.


Photo by Adam Covington
Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., instructed recent graduates to “place confidence in Christ” because He “creates your future and holds it securely.”

The 139 graduates receiving degrees from Golden Gate's Northern California Campus represented about 60 percent of the total graduates from the entire Golden Gate Seminary system.
Iorg's sermon, titled "Moving into the Future," was an exposition of Revelation 3:7-13. He instructed graduates to "place confidence in Christ" because He "creates your future and holds it securely." Iorg continued, "The Bible says that Jesus is holy, true and holds the keys of David. This means that the same Jesus who has access to the throne room and treasure house of God also holds all of our futures in His hands. And He alone opens and closes the doors of ministry opportunities."
Iorg identified several ways graduates can move forward into the future Christ provides.
"Your classes are over but your work is not. God expects us to toil, give effort and to work," Iorg said.
Human efforts to build God's Kingdom always include an element of weakness since "the Bible tells us that we have 'little power and strength.' This should serve as a reminder to all of us to remain humble and not place confidence in ourselves. But our confidence needs to be in the Word of God and in Jesus, who is faithful and true," Iorg said at the May 23 ceremony.
He concluded, "In ministry, you will get to celebrate victories you did not win, find strength you did not achieve, do what you never thought you could do and become a person you did not think you could become. Do the work of the Great Commission and make us proud as you take the Gospel to the ends of the earth."
The William O. Crews Leadership Award, the seminary's highest honor, was presented to Pedro Ramirez. Ryan Rindels received the Lifeway Pastoral Leadership Award and Ikaika Higa received the Broadman and Holman Seminarian Award.
(EDITOR’S NOTE - Tyler Sanders is communications coordinator for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.)

7/2/2014 12:13:07 PM by Tyler Sanders, GGBTS/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Islam in Africa

July 2 2014 by IMB staff

Every year the sun rises high across the African continent and a long, languid voice from mosques reach across the land, calling Muslims to the season of Ramadan, a month-long annual fast.
Internally, reasons for participating in the fast differ from person to person, but the overall aspiration for Ramadan according to most Muslims is to seek forgiveness from Allah and center their thoughts on him.


IMB photo by Jedediah Smith
Washing before prayers is an essential practice for Muslims across the world. In Africa, small pots of water are used to clean hands, feet, and heads so that Allah will find their prayers acceptable. Washing provides a time to focus and prepare their hearts for reciting their prayers.

For an entire lunar month, Muslims across Africa refrain from consuming food or drinks for the duration of the lunar cycle from sunrise to sunset. They are also encouraged to pray and focus their attention on Allah, earning favor by fasting during the daylight hours.
Ramadan is much more than a time of fasting, it is an intensely spiritual time where many Muslims spend focused time in prayer at home or the mosque, seeking to draw closer to Allah. Many Muslims also spend time talking about their faith among family members and giving alms to the poor. Fasting and giving to the poor are important because they fulfill two of the five pillars of Islam. The other pillars include praying five times a day, pilgrimage to Mecca, and the testimony of their faith and belief in the prophet Mohammed.
When the sun sinks below the horizon, families gather together to share a meal, celebrating late in to the night. As Ramadan draws to a close, one of the most significant nights in the year awaits Muslims. It is known as the “Night of Power.”


Night of Power

In the final 10 days of Ramadan it is believed by Muslims that Mohammed received the first revelation of the Qur’an. Because of this, Muslims believe that during the 26th night of Ramadan, the heavens will be pulled open and Allah will hear their prayers. It has been continually documented that during this night, all across Africa, Muslims encounter Christ in their dreams.
Whether beckoning them to follow Him, or telling them He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, many Muslims have come to know Christ when He speaks to them on a night when they are seeking spiritual truth.
With this in mind, the need for intercessory prayer in the days surrounding the Night of Power is extremely important. We need to pray God speaks directly and clearly to those who are seeking after Him.
View photo gallery here.

7/2/2014 11:59:23 AM by IMB staff | with 0 comments

Hobby Lobby ruling draws Baptists to Twitter

July 1 2014 by David Roach, Baptist Press

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Twitter was a preferred format for many Southern Baptist leaders and others to express their reactions in the hours following the landmark Supreme Court decision June 30 to protect the owners of Hobby Lobby and other corporations who, based on sincerely held religious beliefs, refuse to provide abortion-causing drugs to employees.
Columns written and tweeted by Russell D. Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and R. Albert Mohler Jr. of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary were among the most popular reactions, with several leaders retweeting their words.
O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources, tweeted, "We applaud the Supreme Court's decision in the Hobby Lobby case." He also linked to a GuideStone statement that said the decision "left unanswered whether the so-called accommodation to the contraceptive mandate provided to religious non-profit employers is constitutional." GuideStone has filed a legal challenge to the accommodation, which still imposes objectionable requirements on certain religious non-profit organizations. An Oklahoma federal judge issued a preliminary injunction in December that protects ministries using GuideStone's health plan from the mandate's penalties.


Hawkins said in the GuideStone statement, "Our litigation continues because, while similar to the Hobby Lobby case in its focus on sanctity of life, the court must decide issues that the Hobby Lobby case does not address. So even as we join in giving thanks for the favorable decision, we recognize our case must continue. We ask our participants and our broader evangelical family to join us in prayer as we persevere in our fight for religious liberty."

Among Moore's tweets: "From the great Cloud of Witnesses, revolutionary-era Baptist preacher John Leland no doubt smiling" and "Praise God. Thank you Supreme Court."
In his column, Moore said the ruling "isn't just a win for evangelicals, like the Southern Baptist Greens. It's a win for everyone.
"A government that can pave over the consciences of the Greens can steamroll over any dissent anywhere," Moore wrote. "Whether you agree or disagree with us about abortion, every American should want to see a government that is not powerful enough to set itself up as a god over the conscience."
Mohler said in his column that the decision both protected religious liberty and revealed a deep divide among the Supreme Court's nine justices.
"Today's decision is yet another repudiation of the heavy-handed and blatantly unconstitutional overreach of President Barack Obama and his administration," Mohler wrote. "The President could have covered contraception and birth control under any number of other means which would not have specifically targeted religious liberty. Instead, the Obama Administration appeared to take the route most likely to trample upon religious liberty and offend Christian conscience."
Mohler added, "The deeply divided court also revealed in startling clarity its own internal debates over religious liberty -- and that division of understanding at the nation's highest court is very disturbing indeed."
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, wrote and tweeted a blog post about the decision that Christianity Today used as its lead article Monday morning. In the post Stetzer presented four ways Christians should respond to the Hobby Lobby decision, including "Pray for rulers and those in authority" and "Engage in mission."
Among Stetzer's tweets: "The government cannot require people of faith to violate sincerely-held beliefs," "Hoping progressive Christians who downplayed #HobbyLobby will hear Supremes even if they didn't stand w/ fellow Xians," and "Most Americans are NOT w/ evangelicals, Catholics, & Hobby Lobby, but the Supreme Court was."
SBC President Ronnie Floyd tweeted, "A great day for Religious Liberty! #hobbylobby." Floyd retweeted Mohler's statement, "The #HobbyLobby decision is a HUGE affirmation of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), almost unanimously passed by Congress." Floyd also retweeted Moore's statement, "#HobbyLobby wins. This is a great day for religious liberty. Government is not lord of the conscience."
Jason Allen, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted, "So thankful for the HL ruling. Thankful for the Supremes, but more thankful for King Jesus."
Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, retweeted a breaking news alert about the decision and added, "PTL" (praise the Lord). He also retweeted Moore's statement, "#HobbyLobby refused to render to Caesar what belongs to God: their consciences. The Supreme Court agreed."
Bryant Wright, a former SBC president and pastor of the Atlanta-area Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, tweeted a link to Moore's column with the comment, "Thankful religious liberty upheld. Reminded by vote, Pres. Elections HUGE."
Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of Southern Seminary, tweeted, "I don't care whether this was a 'big blow' to the Obama admin. This decision is much bigger than the politics of the moment."
Trevin Wax, managing editor of LifeWay Christian Resources' The Gospel Project curriculum, tweeted, "As evangelicals, we can't rely on the courts; we have to be in conversations." He linked to a Gospel Coalition article in which he argued that a growing number of Americans downplay the importance of religious liberty. Christians must engage in winsome conversations to explain why religious liberty is essential, Wax wrote.
Eric Metaxas, co-host of BreakPoint Radio, tweeted, "To thank the Green Family -- who are true American heroes -- everyone should visit Hobby Lobby today and buy as much as they can afford." He also tweeted, "The only big downer in today's SCOTUS decision is that 4 of the 9 justices voted for King George III instead of the Founding Fathers."
The National Religious Broadcasters, in a statement on its website, praised the Supreme Court for "upholding religious freedom for Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties in their 'David-and-Goliath' struggle for freedom against the Executive Branch." NRB President Jerry Johnson called the ruling "a significant victory honoring Americans' First Amendment freedom to live their faith in everyday life."
(EDITOR’S NOTE - David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service.)

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7/1/2014 11:22:35 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

CAL weighs in on actions by N.C. lawmakers

July 1 2014 by L.A. Williams, Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.

Court rulings on prayer, suits filed against the state’s marriage amendment, and a community’s battle to keep out a planned casino are among the issues garnering the attention of the Christian Action League (CAL) this year, even as the conservative, public-policy organization lobbies lawmakers to engage legislative issues from a biblical worldview.
“Last year was a phenomenal year in the General Assembly with the passage of laws regarding abortion clinics, human trafficking and more,” said Mark Creech, the League’s executive director.
“We were also able to hold back a gaming nights bill, a bill to legalize and tax video sweepstakes, and a Sunday hunting bill, among others in 2013. This year – the year of the short session – has seen some important legislation, but we’ve also spent a great deal of time monitoring and addressing issues in the courts and communities.”
The League joined other conservative Tar Heel organizations in May at a rally on the Capitol lawn in Raleigh to celebrate the second anniversary of the state’s Marriage Protection Amendment (MPA), even as the law faces a growing number of legal challenges. The third lawsuit attacking the MPA, that legally defines marriage as between one man and one woman in North Carolina, was filed in late April by a dozen clergy members, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, and several homosexual couples.
They erroneously claim the MPA violates the religious liberty of pastors who want to perform gay marriage ceremonies. Earlier in April, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit meant to create undue sympathy for lesbian couples that have children with medical issues.
These couples were wed in other states where same-sex marriage is legal, but now live in North Carolina and demand the state recognize their unions.


North Carolina General Assembly photo
North Carolina legislators meet at the North Carolina State Legislative Building in Raleigh.

They argue their children cannot get the medical treatment needed unless they receive marriage benefits. These two legal actions join another egregious lawsuit by the ACLU that was filed in July 2013 in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling negating a portion of the national Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
This case challenges North Carolina’s adoption laws, which only allow for married or single individuals to adopt, not unmarried pairs. Same-sex couples are demanding they be able to adopt one another’s children via a so-called “second parent” adoption.
Complicating the issue in North Carolina is Attorney General Roy Cooper’s outspoken support for same-sex marriage and concerns about whether he will defend the state’s MPA.
At this point, Cooper has sought to delay these legal challenges until after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on Virginia’s marriage protection amendment, a ruling that would impact North Carolina’s MPA.
“We know North Carolina has been in the crosshairs of same-sex marriage activists for several years, which is why it was important for voters to amend our state’s constitution to shore up our longstanding marriage statutes,” said Creech.
“Though not surprising, the lawsuits against the marriage amendment take time to analyze and report on, because we want to ensure Christians across the state understand what’s at stake by having clear and accurate information.”
He said CAL has also kept an eye on pro-life causes such as efforts to allow a Choose Life license plate in the state, a push that was derailed in February when a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the plates unconstitutional.
“We continue to urge the state to appeal this verdict to the full appeals court,” said Creech.
A legal decision that believers can celebrate is the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 5 ruling that prayer at the start of a government meeting does not violate the Constitution.
The case, which originated in Greece, N.Y., was very similar to the Forsyth County battle over pre-meeting invocations. Based on the court’s decision CAL urged boards across the state that dropped the prayers for fear of litigation to reinstitute them.
Almost immediately after the SCOTUS ruling, the Forsyth County commissioners and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) petitioned state courts to overturn the erroneous judgment set forth in the Forsyth case, a request that is pending.
Also yet to be determined is whether the federal government will place 16 acres just off I-85 in Cleveland County into trust for a Catawba Indian casino complex. CAL has worked alongside the Kings Mountain Awareness Group (KMAG) to fight this attempt to bring another casino and potentially thousands more gambling addicts to the state. More than 100 lawmakers, in addition to the governor, have gone on record in opposition to the plan, but economic development officials in Cleveland County continue to endorse the tribe’s promise of jobs.
“CAL opposes any expansion of gambling. A huge complex like the one being proposed by an out-of-state tribe is not just arguably illegal according to federal law, but also morally unacceptable. No doubt it would create some jobs for the area, but at the same time it would create numerous problem gamblers and take money from other sectors of the economy,” said Creech.
“We are thrilled to support KMAG’s efforts to educate their local officials on the bigger picture, not just the image created by gambling promoters. Our partnership with them is building momentum against the proposed casino.”
Beyond the courts and community issues, CAL continues to bring a Christian worldview to bear on the political process.
“The nature of the short session – a relatively brief gathering for lawmakers during which they must pass a budget – always results in fewer bills being considered, and 2014 has been no exception,” Creech said.
“With that said, we have still been extremely busy researching the bills that were brought to the table, like pushing for lawmakers to nix a plan to tie teacher pay raises to lottery funds, dealing with alcohol measures abusively tucked into regulatory bills, promoting religious freedom bills and monitoring a number of other proposals heard in committee.”
He cited the success of two religious liberty bills, both of which deal with education, as cause for much celebration.
“One bill clarifies the rights of students and teachers in public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, while the other addresses the freedoms that student organizations have on our university campuses,” Creech said.
“These are not new liberties, but because of the growing hostility toward religion, more specifically the Christian religion, in the public square, it has become necessary to spell out what used to be obvious. Thankfully, our lawmakers are willing to put forward this kind of clarifying legislation.”
Creech said CAL is also dealing with some alcohol bills this session.
“Alcohol control has always been a signature issue for us,” he said.
“Numerous bills regarding alcohol have been introduced, as there is always a push from the industry to dangerously grow sales, but we’ve narrowed our focus to just a handful this session that we feel should be addressed to maintain public health and safety,” he said.
The following is a list of bills CAL views as significant during the short session:

  • S 719 – Student Organizations/Rights and Recognition: This new law will ensure that student organizations at North Carolina’s public colleges and universities will be able to determine their own core missions, choose leaders, and settle internal disputes without fear that administrators who oppose their causes will shut them down. The bill was passed by the House and Senate and sent to the governor on June 20.

  • S 370 – Respect for Student Prayer/Religious Activity: Seeking to clarify that neither students nor school personnel shed their First Amendment freedoms at the school house door, lawmakers passed this law which highlights that religious speech should be treated no differently from non-religious speech in the public schools. It affirms that students can openly discuss faith-related issues or reference their religion via classroom or homework assignments without fear of being given a lower grade. It also solidifies students’ rights to pray and to assemble for religious reasons, affirming that a faith-based club should have access to the same facilities and benefits as secular groups. Additionally, the law includes a grievance process for students who believe their rights have been violated. CAL supported and advocated for this legislation, which passed both the North Carolina House and Senate and was signed by the governor into law on June 19.

  • H 842 – Study of Spirituous Liquor Sales-Distillery: This bill was written to study the impact of allowing distilleries in the state to sell their spirituous liquor products after patrons have participated in a tour of their establishments, but industry lobbyists are pushing lawmakers to skip the study and simply allow distilleries to start selling their products onsite. Such a measure would set a dangerous precedent and create a slippery slope by allowing for the sale of liquor outside ABC stores at private businesses, a practice that would also undermine local option alcohol referenda and the ABC system’s role of control. CAL continues to oppose this measure, which resides in the Senate Rules Committee. There remains concern, however, the bill might move before the end of session.

  • H 1156 – Spirituous Liquor Tastings/City of Asheville: Although this proposal may sound limited in scope, the bill, which would allow up to three liquor tasting events per week at Asheville area ABC stores, signals an egregious paradigm shift in the function of Alcoholic Beverage Control. It creates a partnership between ABC stores and the industry in pursuit of profits, rather than keeping the focus on regulation.

CAL has strongly expressed its opposition to this measure, arguing ABC stores cannot serve two masters – they cannot be about “control” and the pursuit of “profit” at the same time. On the day of the writing of this article, sponsors of the measure pulled the bill from consideration for lack of support.

Other legislation and matters of public-policy were addressed by CAL this year.

“Nevertheless this report,” said Creech, “seeks to comprehensively speak to primary concerns and their impact upon the moral climate of our great state and nation.”
For weekly information about matters of public-policy in N.C. from a Christian worldview, go to www.christianactionleague.org. Look in the upper right margin for, “What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You,” and sign-up for the CAL’s weekly newsletter, “The CAL Insider.”

7/1/2014 11:14:25 AM by L.A. Williams, Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc. | with 0 comments

Fruitland expands teaching to multiply disciple-making

July 1 2014 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

Two graduation services in June show how Fruitland Baptist Bible College is expanding its satellite centers to equip more church leaders across North Carolina.
In a June 6 graduation service at the main Hendersonville campus, diplomas and certificates were presented to seven Hispanics and 15 African-Americans, while associate degrees were presented to seven Anglo graduates. Fourteen more Hispanic students received certificates during a June 13 graduation exercise in Statesville. The service was another historic first for Fruitland as 13 of 15 African-American graduates came from Rocky Mount to receive their certificate of Christian leadership, completing two years of study at the Rocky Mount campus in cooperation with the North Roanoke Baptist Association.
As the congregation declared “amens” and at times stood or applauded, James Gailliard, senior pastor of Word Tabernacle Church in Rocky Mount, told the graduates the only way to stay on the right path through life is by trusting “the right Somebody,” meaning Jesus Christ, not intellect or degrees.
“We have to learn to rejoice right where we are,” he said. “Don’t get caught up in what you don’t have. Praise God for where He has you right now.”
He compared life to a toy jack-in-the-box whose puppet pops up as the handle is cranked. “Life may push you down. You may make mistakes. But the Holy Spirit will crank you back up. God is faithful and just,” he assured.


BSC photo by Mike Creswell
Graduates can’t hide their excitement after shifting their tassels during a ceremony June 13 at Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville. Fourteen Hispanics completed diplomas in Christian ministry through one of Fruitland Baptist Bible College’s satellite campuses.


Graduates should realize that God has a purpose for their lives, relating this to the last words of Jesus on the cross saying, “It is finished.” Jesus was saying, “I have finished my assignment,” Gailliard said.
“My degree at Fruitland is finished, but my learning’s not finished. My loving is not finished. My making a difference is not finished. So make up your mind that there is some work that God has for you to do,” Gailliard urged.
Amanda Horton, daughter of Fruitland President David Horton, walked across the stage to receive an associate degree. While other graduates got a handshake, she was honored with a hug from her father.


Statesville satellite

At Fruitland’s June 13 graduation at Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, 14 Hispanic students received diplomas in Christian ministry. The service was conducted in Spanish.
The Statesville satellite center was established several years ago by Aldo Barceló, a native of Chile.
Fruitland’s teaching ministry to Hispanics is continuing to expand with a new center set to open in mid-July in Charlotte, according to Robert Fernández, director of Hispanic theological education.
“These certificates are the result of four years of hard work by these students,” said Fernández. “Most of these students originally came to North Carolina with other plans, mostly to find economic success. But God meant that for good, because the Lord Jesus was waiting here for them to put them into service.” 
If the students are like most Hispanics in the state, he said, some will return to their homes in Mexico or other Spanish-speaking countries. Thus, Fruitland will be exporting trained Christian leaders as missionaries.
“I predict this will have an impact around the world,” Fernández said.

William Ortega, Hispanic church planting consultant with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), presented the baccalaureate sermon.


Rocky Mount success

Two years after Fruitland launched a satellite teaching center in Rocky Mount, 15 students have completed their courses.

Thirteen of them made the six-hour trip to Hendersonville for Fruitland’s June 6 graduation.
They traveled with friends and family in a bus chartered by Word Tabernacle Church. Fruitland Baptist Church provided dinner for the group. 
The students completed 16 classes adapted from Fruitland’s major courses, said Bill Mackey, who coordinates Fruitland’s Rocky Mount center and continuing education. 
“We combined classes to give them as much as possible in that two-year program and then we helped them to find everything else they needed,” he said. Most of the students serve as unpaid church staffers, working bivocationally to support themselves.
Two Rocky Mount pastors requested the classes, telling Mackey it was wearing them out to provide leader training while managing rapid growth. Most of the students came from Word Tabernacle Church and Greater Joy Baptist Church, led by Shelton Daniel, pastor.
Partnership between Fruitland, North Roanoke Baptist Association, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) and these two local churches enabled the teaching effort.
“It has been gratifying to see how they are more involved in giving leadership in their local churches,” Mackey said. “One of the most powerful moments I can remember seeing in recent years was seeing how God has transformed their lives as adults, how they had become believers and then started to minister to other people in the name of Christ.”
He told of one young man who does street evangelism with his family and a woman who is “the most passionate about encouraging people to come to faith in Jesus Christ I have ever seen.”
Instructors in Fruitland’s Hispanic program include Bill Grissom, retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Rocky Mount; William Seeler, minister of music, worship and adult ministry at Central Baptist Church in Wendell; and Brian Daniels, a Ph.D. student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.

BSC staff members, along with the instructors in the Hispanic program, lead these courses. Urban church planting consultant Richard Lee taught New Testament; Michael Sowers taught missions and church planting; Marty Dupree taught evangelism and Brian Upshaw, disciple-making.
Mackey said the Rocky Mount teaching project has been so successful he hopes it can be set up in other locations. Mackey also works with Fruitland’s program of continuing education to keep pastors and others updated in their ministries and methods. 
N.C. Baptists support Fruitland through their Cooperative Program gifts. More than 800 N.C. Baptist churches are led by Fruitland graduates.

7/1/2014 11:09:25 AM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

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