July 2015

Tennesseans await ruling on physician-assisted suicide

July 31 2015 by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist & Reflector

The issue of physician-assisted suicide or death with dignity has surfaced in Tennessee.
Earlier this year the Tennessee General Assembly failed to act on a bill which would have allowed doctors to prescribe life-ending drugs when requested by terminally ill patients.
In May, however, well-known Tennessee lawyer and politician John Jay Hooker filed a lawsuit challenging state law that makes it a felony to assist in a suicide, according to a report in The Tennessean on July 10. The Associate Press reported that the 84-year-old former candidate for governor of Tennessee has terminal cancer.
On that same day, Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy heard arguments on the issue from both sides.
Steven Hart, special counsel in the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, argued assisted suicide is not a constitutionally protected right, according to The Tennessean.
Hart noted that 45 states prohibit assisted suicide, which also is termed by some as death with dignity, the paper reported.


Randy C. Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, understands well the arguments of those who support physician-assisted suicide but makes it clear that he opposes any attempt to make it legal.
“I’ve stood beside the bed of many terminally ill friends in my three-plus decades as a pastor. It tears my heart out to see them suffer,” he said.
“I don’t begin to claim an understanding of why God does what He does in the lives of individuals but I do know this: God has a purpose in all that He does and He is with these friends through the finish line of this world and ushers them into eternity.”
For those who are suffering, Davis encouraged them “to lean into Jesus and on His promises to never leave you or forsake you even when it feels you are alone. If you are a relative or friend of someone suffering, the Bible clearly calls us to bear up one another’s burdens.”
Davis underscored that as “executive director of the Executive Board ministries of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, I categorically state that we in no way support any assisted suicide measures.
“Between abortion and a push to see assisted suicide legalized across our country, I’m extremely alarmed at the trend of devaluing of life in our culture. The inception and termination of life is not ours to determine. God has determined both an individual’s birth and death – He specifically says so in His Word – and it is not our place under any circumstance to usurp His authority.
“We must bend our lives to conform to the Bible, not conform the Bible to suit our convenience,” he said.
Southern Baptist ethicist Ben Mitchell, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Union University in Jackson, addressed physician-assisted suicide in an April opinion article in The Jackson Sun.
He wrote that “even though in assisted suicide it is the patient who administers the lethal drug, the practice distorts the healing relationship between doctors and their patients.
“Doctors have an ethical duty to do what they can to alleviate suffering, but they should not knowingly involve themselves in the active death of a patient, even if the patient requests it. Doctors must not be complicit in killing their patients,” Mitchell noted in the column.
Mitchell told the Baptist and Reflector that “one of the ironies” of Hooker’s lawsuit is that he “is asking for a future right that he cannot possibly be certain he will exercise when the time comes.”
“He may, in fact, choose palliative care and pain management. I hope he does, because far more physicians have excellent skills in that area of patient care than have practice killing people.”
Mitchell also observed that one “does not need a constitutional right to kill oneself. What Mr. Hooker is arguing is that he has a constitutional right to have others help him kill himself. There is nothing of the kind in either the Tennessee or U.S. Constitution. His right to end his own life does not entail an obligation on others to assist him.”
The Union provost also stressed that “physicians must not be accomplices in killing their patients. That would hardly be death with dignity.”
On July 23 the Family Action Council of Tennessee reported the Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a “friend of the court” brief on the Family Action Council’s behalf and for other organizations in Tennessee that support life. The brief defends the constitutionality of Tennessee’s law which prohibits physician-assisted suicide.
David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council, observed in a blog July 23 that the rationale used by the United States Supreme Court in its recent same-sex marriage ruling could eventually lead to the overturning of state laws prohibiting physician-assisted suicide.
He wrote, “The court’s rationale made our ability to govern ourselves and exist as a nation of sovereign states subject to the whims of this unelected ‘committee of nine lawyers’ we call the Supreme Court. Self government, states’ rights, and the Tenth Amendment may have died, too. They were, for sure, put on life support.
“But that’s not all that may have died. If the Court overrules our laws against physician-assisted suicide, it may just be your right to live that gets overruled if someday you get too old, too costly, or too infirm.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist & Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

7/31/2015 10:41:59 AM by Lonnie Wilkey, Baptist & Reflector | with 0 comments

Black church conference meets ministry needs

July 31 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Retired International Mission Board (IMB) executive David Cornelius remembers the early 1990s fellowship that led to the formation of the Black Church Leadership & Family Conference, formerly known as Black Church Week.
At that time, African American Southern Baptists did not readily attend the various week-long training programs offered by LifeWay Christian Resources, such as the Sunday School training event at Glorieta Conference Center that Cornelius and a handful of other blacks attended.
During an evening fellowship, Cornelius and then California Southern Baptist pastor Jay Wells, now a retired LifeWay executive, discussed the importance of attracting blacks to the numerous training sessions offered for Southern Baptists.
“So the idea of Black Church Week was to provide all of the training in one week, the training in every area as opposed to having the individual weeks,” Cornelius told Baptist Press at the 2015 Black Church conference, held July 20-24 at Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest, N.C. “And of course the hope was that [blacks] would eventually start attending the Sunday School week, and the preachers’ week, and so forth, offered by the convention apart from Black Church Week.”
Today, the Black Church conference annually attracts as many as 1,200 African American Southern Baptists from across the country, offering training, education, preaching, inspiration, praise and worship, fellowship and recreation. Cornelius has not missed one week since its formation more than 20 years ago. He, with his wife Elwanda, were one of only three African American IMB missionary couples in a field of over 4,000 before they returned to the U.S., where Cornelius headed black church mobilization in the northeast region for IMB. He retired in 2010.


Photo by Diana Chandler
Denton Harris, at the podium, leads the Black Church Leadership & Family Conference 2015 choir in singing "War." John Ray Jr. directs as Roy Cotton II plays keyboard.

“My hope would be that the time would come when it is not needed as such; the time will come when people will take advantage of all of the various training opportunities without having to be separated out, and yet I realize that time is not here yet,” Cornelius told BP. “There are some culturally relative things that take place during Black Church Week that’s not done in the other training opportunities as well. And I think [these culturally relative things] as much as anything contributed to the growth and the longevity of Black Church Week.”
Certain things are done differently in black churches than in worship settings among predominantly other ethnicities, he said.
“Ushering in the African American church is quite different from ushering in the white church. I know that because I’ve been a member of a predominantly white church for the past 22 years,” said Cornelius, a trustee and deacon at Huguenot Road Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. “So I know there are differences and that kind of training for example is not done to my knowledge in any specialized week that is offered by the Southern Baptist Convention, whereas in the black conventions, they do have special training opportunities for ushers and for choirs.
“But even during the choir week, I’m not sure how much training that is relevant to the way our black choirs operate is offered. And a lot of that is because it’s just not relevant to the Anglo experience,” he said. “Integration would be moved forward if we were more broad in our acceptance of various singing styles, worship styles and so forth, and that goes for whites and blacks.”
Registration at this year’s event totaled 818, including 62 children who were immersed in age-appropriate training and activities, and 116 teenagers who attended the concurrent Centrifuge camp, according to Mark Croston, LifeWay national director for Black Church Partnerships.
“What makes Black Church Leadership and Family Conference special is not just the great preaching, Bible exposition and training, it’s also the family environment,” Croston told Baptist Press. “I brought my children with me every year from the time they were in preschool. It is a week of training where there is a great experience waiting for people of all ages.”
“Stand” was the conference theme, taken from I Peter 5:8-12. Activities began with the July 20 opening worship service in Spilman Auditorium, followed by nearly 100 individual morning class sessions, morning corporate Bible study, gender-specific afternoon teaching sessions, evening praise and worship, and appreciation dinners for pastors, ministers, mission leaders, wives and women.
The “Whosoever Will” choir was recruited from the audience on opening night, and immediately began to sing praises under the direction of evening worship leader John Ray, Jr., minister of worship at Light of the World Christian Church in Indianapolis and worship auditorium coordinator Roy Cotton Sr., a church starter with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Volunteer ushers were also recruited in the same forum.
Evening worship preachers were Herbert Lusk II, pastor of Greater Exodus Baptist Church in Philadelphia, who preached July 20; Frank I. Williams, treasurer of the National African American Fellowship and pastor of both the Bronx Baptist Church and Wake-Eden Baptist Church in New York, who preached July 21; Wayne Chaney, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Long Beach, Calif., July 22, and IMB President David Platt, July 23.
Other key speakers and teachers included, alphabetically, Diann Ash, minister of education at Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.; John Benton Jr., young adult pastor of First Baptist Church-West, Charlotte, N.C.; Myesha Chaney, wife of the pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Los Angeles; former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran; Victor Davis, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.; Jason Earls, youth pastor of North Garland Baptist Fellowship in Garland, Texas; Penny Ellis, executive director of Sisters on Mission, Inc. of Lawrenceville, Ga., and Michael Evans, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, in Mansfield, Texas.
Also among key participants were D.A. Horton, national coordinator of Urban Mission Initiatives of the North American Mission Board; Jamale Johnson, pastor of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C.; James McCarroll, pastor of First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Morgan McCoy, a dramatist and teacher with Kingdom Pursuers Ministries in Richmond, Va.; Nik Ripken of Nik Ripken Ministries, and Morana St. Hilaire, immediate past minister of music at Suburban Baptist Church in New Orleans.
In addition to LifeWay, event sponsors included the SBC Executive Committee, IMB, NAMB, Guidestone Financial Resources, Woman’s Missionary Union, NAAF, and the National Pro-Life Coalition. The next conference is set for July 11–15, 2016 at Ridgecrest.


Black Denominational Servants

The Black Denominational Servants Network (BDSN), a professional organization composed of African Americans employed by the Southern Baptist Convention, its entities and the Woman’s Missionary Union, elected 2015–2017 officers during its business meeting at Ridgecrest.
Officers are president Eugene McCormick, a team strategist for African American Church Development Ministries of the Florida Baptist Convention; vice president Port Wilburn, pastor of Rock Harbor Christian Fellowship in San Pablo, Calif.; secretary Diana Chandler, general assignment writer/editor of Baptist Press, and treasurer Ira Antoine, coordinator of bivocational ministry with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
For BDSN membership information, contact McCormick at emccormick@flbaptist.org.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)


Related Story:

Prayer major focus of black church conf.

7/31/2015 10:32:07 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ERLC’s Wussow moves overseas to aid poor, suffering

July 31 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Travis Wussow and his family will arrive in the Middle East on behalf of Southern Baptists July 31 after some difficult farewells but with a convictional certainty about their move.
Saying goodbye after 15 years in Austin, Texas, was “really hard,” Wussow said before adding on behalf of his wife Katie and himself, “At the same time, neither of us have ever believed in anything as much as we believe in this work that we feel called to go do.”
What they “feel called to go do” is establish an international religious freedom office for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in a region marked by religious strife. Wussow will serve as the ERLC’s director of international justice and religious freedom in the office.
ERLC President Russell Moore described establishment of the Middle East office as a “historic moment” for the entity when it was announced during the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in June. Moore commended Wussow’s “convictional leadership and Gospel courage,” saying his work “will be of immeasurable value in the ERLC’s goal of advocating for soul freedom around the globe.”
Under Wussow’s direction, the ERLC office will collaborate with other organizations to advocate for religious freedom and social justice internationally. It also will provide training resources on justice and religious liberty for churches and organizations, create material for raising awareness on the issues and work with Baptist Global Response to help meet human needs.


Travis Wussow

The move to the Middle East for Wussow, his wife and two daughters under 5 years of age follows years of professional and spiritual development that prepared him for the new post.
While practicing law in Austin, he gained valuable insight as a result of representing large energy companies.
“What I learned there is the power that having a good advocate can bring for somebody,” Wussow told Baptist Press in a telephone interview before his family and he left the country. “And the poor do not have good advocates. They don’t have them in the United States. They certainly don’t have them overseas.”
In sum, “what has really gripped my heart,” he said, is: “I want to be the kind of advocate for the poor and suffering across the world that they would not be able to get for themselves.”
Wussow, 32, and his wife served as advocates for and ministers to the poor in Austin the last several years before their big move. They lived in a lower-income part of the Texas capital for four years, did community development and mercy ministry work for five or six years, and helped start a non-profit organization that is meeting multiple needs.
An April 2013 prayer conference sponsored by International Justice Mission (IJM), which works on behalf of the poor and vulnerable overseas, proved pivotal for the couple.
“That was really the beginning of a sense that God wanted us to do this overseas,” Wussow said. “The scale of the problem globally is so vast that we felt compelled to enter into it and to help in whatever way the Lord wanted to use us.”
He served as a fellow for IJM and, after Moore became the ERLC’s president in June 2013, began discussions with the entity about what role he might play in its mission. He became legal consultant for the ERLC, and the conversations led to the opportunity to lead the new overseas effort.
Wussow served on the staff of The Austin Stone Community Church for about four years, fulfilling responsibilities at the multi-campus church as general counsel and executive director of central ministries.
Moving his family to set up the office in the Middle East offers two major advantages, said Wussow. “First, we will be able to develop real relationships with leaders and people the ERLC is working to serve,” he said. “Second, by living in the Middle East, we will begin to develop an understanding of the region that is very difficult to obtain any other way.”
Providing reliable information is a part of the mission he is particularly excited about, said Wussow, who holds both undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas.
People “don’t know what to believe and what to trust because there is, I think we need to acknowledge, a credibility problem,” he said, adding he sees providing information pastors, church leaders and other Southern Baptists “can count on” as “a big part of the international mandate.”
“They know that it’s actually true, and so they feel compelled to get involved,” he said.
Wussow appreciates that his status as an American lawyer doing work overseas has strengths and limitations – limitations that are helped by living in the Middle East.
Using Egypt as an example, he said, “I don’t know what Egypt needs. I can research. I can read a bunch of articles. Even so, I’m not going to understand what truly is best to make the situation better for Egyptian Christians and for the cause of religious liberty in Egypt.
“We’re going to have to work with Egyptians and learn from them and learn from their experience, because they’re going to know much better than we will what they need. As an advocate, I see my role in the lives of Egyptian Christians as really two things:
“[T]elling true stories about what’s happening to raise the right kind of awareness, a durable awareness about the situation that they’re actually in,” he said. “And then secondly, building a coalition or a constellation of partnerships that are on the ground that we can direct attention to, direct resources to, to actually change outcomes for people on the ground.”
Travis and Katie have made their marriage and daughters priorities, and he acknowledges there are concerns about moving their young family to the Middle East.
“[I]t’s something we have thought about a lot and really prayed about,” he said. “We wouldn’t be moving overseas if we didn’t feel like it was honestly best for our family and the girls.”
The ERLC and the Wussows believe it also will be best for many overseas who need an advocate.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

7/31/2015 10:22:57 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

1 month later: Evangelicals continue marriage advocacy

July 31 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A month after the Supreme Court’s nationwide legalization of gay marriage, evangelicals continued raising objections to the ruling.
Commentators to offer analysis included National Religious Broadcasters President Jerry Johnson, Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions Executive Director Rick Lance, Christian authors and speakers Rosaria Butterfield and Christopher Yuan, and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Provost Jason Duesing.
Johnson, in the first two articles of a three-part series, called the court’s decision a “supreme shame” and a “supreme sham.” The third and forthcoming article will address practical considerations associated with the ruling under the heading “supreme shambles.”
The high court’s June 26 majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges offered “a moral argument for ‘gay marriage’ as opposed to a legal one,” Johnson wrote. While the Supreme Court is well equipped to adjudicate legal matters, “as a Christian, for moral issues, I rely on holy scripture,” he wrote, noting that the Old and New Testaments regard heterosexual marriage as the only appropriate channel for sexual expression.
Johnson countered several common objections to biblical teaching posed by gay marriage advocates. In response to the charge, “Jesus never mentioned homosexuality,” Johnson countered, “I could equally say He did not support homosexuality because there is no specific record of it in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.” To argue for gay marriage from Jesus’ silence is “not a weak argument; it is no argument.” Johnson added that Christ referred to marriage as between a male and female in Matthew 19:4-6.


Rosaria Butterfield

Responding to the argument that men and women each are capable of playing the roles of both wives and husbands, Johnson cited 1 Corinthians 6:9, where Paul used specific Greek words to condemn both the active and passive partners in male homosexual acts. “Paul was aware” that individuals in same-sex relationships commonly played roles that did not correspond to their biological genders and condemned such behavior as sinful, Johnson wrote.
The desire of homosexuals to mimic male and female roles in their relationships “just proves the gold standard of male-female sexuality, marriage between husband and wife,” Johnson wrote. The Supreme Court, however, “must destroy that desired thing by redefinition to let gays and lesbians in.”
In his second article, Johnson called the court’s ruling a “sham” because the five justices in the majority – Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor – contradicted their own legal argument from 2013, when they overturned the Defense of Marriage Act by finding that “states, not the feds, have authoritative jurisdiction over marriage.”
“It is time for this Supreme Court to stop the sham pretense of objectivity or adherence to the Constitution and return to the rule of law, not of opinions,” Johnson wrote. “If not, these Justices should trade their judicial garb for that of a typical politician, setting aside their robes for business suits. If their outfits match their politics, we should not be surprised to find the majority – along with other politicians celebrating Obergefell – dressed in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.”
Among other commentators on the court’s ruling:

  • Butterfield and Yuan, in an article posted on the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s website, disagreed with the majority opinion’s claim that marriage “embodies the highest ideals of love.” That claim misses the fact that “the pinnacle of love is God’s love for us in Christ” and leads to an unbiblical view of singleness, Butterfield and Yuan wrote.

“Defining marriage as being between a husband and a wife appears unfair to the LGBT community, in part because a life of singleness is viewed to be crushingly lonely,” Butterfield and Yuan wrote. “Have we in the church inadvertently played into that lie with our idolatry of marriage while being pejorative and silent toward singleness? If singleness is unfair, then it is no wonder that marriage has become a right. Just as the LGBT community appealed to the rest of the world for dignity and respect, it is time for the church to fight for the dignity and respect of single women and single men.”
Christians should reject an idolatrous view of marriage and “point people – whether married or single – to a life of costly discipleship pursuing the embodiment of love, Jesus Christ Himself,” Butterfield and Yuan wrote.

  • Duesing drew on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy in highlighting “sources of light” amid a culture trending “toward that which is dark and dreadful.” The Bible, the wisdom of the church and Christians’ gospel witness all serve to illuminate the world, Duesing wrote in a blog article.

When traveling through the fictional underground mines of Moria, some of Tolkien’s characters “found a faint source of light, and by it were able to move forward in their quest,” Duesing wrote. “As bearers of the light of God’s Word, gathered in local church fellowships joined and indwelled by God Himself, believers traverse the darkness sharing the good news of the gospel – until evil is destroyed and the King returns.”

  • Lance offered four action steps to Christians concerned regarding the court’s ruling: “remain faithful to our Lord and to the mission He has given us”; “remain hopeful”; “remain truthful”; and “be careful to protect our religious liberties as Christians.”

  • Zach Crook, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Weatherford, Texas, called Christians to reject the common assumption that “whoever yells the loudest must be right.” When the supposed fulfillment of sexual liberation “is revealed to the lost and thirsty as [an] empty cistern, the question becomes: where will they go next? It will be a lot easier to embrace the refugees of cultural progress if we put down our bullhorns and open our arms,” Crook wrote in a commentary.

  • Tennessee evangelist Jerry Drace, in an article for his newsletter, lamented a 40-year trend of Supreme Court justices’ voting to overturn Judeo-Christian morality on such issues as abortion, school prayer and marriage.

“Sin of any kind is not up for a vote! It falters your faith. It destroys your enjoyment. It diminishes your peace. It weakens your prayers. It harms your testimony,” Drace wrote.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

7/31/2015 10:14:06 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Prayer major focus of black church conf.

July 31 2015 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

A God-initiated prayer movement among Southern Baptists spurred a major focus on prayer at Black Church Leadership & Family Conference July 20-24 in Ridgecrest, N.C., prayer mobilizer Gary Frost told Baptist Press.
Frost, North American Mission Board vice president for the Midwest Region and Prayer, led conference organizers to devote to prayer the July 28 conference-wide Bible study, including corporate, small-group and altar prayers among the 600 gathered at 11 a.m. in Spilman Auditorium.
Recognizing the focus on prayer and spiritual awakening by Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd since his 2014 election, Frost noted revival is not about the work of any one individual.
“The history of revival is when you attach it to a person, it can begin to fizzle,” Frost said. “It’s like a spontaneous movement and it uses various leaders at different times. And so we want to make sure we keep Christ as our focal point and no individual’s revival.”
The service was based on the prayer of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20, and included teachings from Nehemiah 1, Psalm 51, Ephesians 1 and Romans 12.


Photo by Diana Chandler
Light illuminates the face of Debra Pounds of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans during a small-group prayer at the 2015 Black Church Leadership & Family Conference.

“When the Moabites, the Ammonites (and) Mount Seir were coming against the children of Israel, [Jehoshaphat] didn’t try to figure out a strategy; he didn’t try to get resources, he simply acknowledged the reality, ‘Lord we don’t know what to do. Our eyes are on you,’“ Frost told Baptist Press in explaining the prayer emphasis. “And right now, many times in denominational life when things become difficult, or as the world gets darker, we think we need more strategies, more money or whatever. And God uses strategies or money, but we need to know what God wants us to do. We have to stop acting as if we have the answers.”
Corporate prayer leaders during the service were K. Marshall Williams, president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC; James McCarroll, pastor of First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Rickie Bradshaw, pastor of First Southwest Baptist Church in Houston,; and Kim Hardy, an author, teacher and wife of Dexter Hardy, teaching pastor of LifePoint@Eastside, a mission of Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.
The leaders directed worshippers into groups of three or four each for audible prayers, drew them to the altar, and also offered Scriptural insight.
“The Bible says we wrestle not against flesh and blood,” Williams told worshippers. “It’s not moral combat, it’s spiritual wickedness in high places. We want to pray, ‘Lord, show us the condition of the walls [Nehemiah 1] today and Lord show what would Thou have us to do, that we might be sensitive to the needs of others, that we might look beyond others’ faults and see the need, that we might love the sinner but hate the sin.’“
Williams, pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, shared details of his personal prayer life.
“Every morning when I’m in the presence of God, I spend time just adoring Him, and reminding Him of His attributes, just Who He is, and I worship Him, I ascribe worth unto Him, and then I just give Him some praise,” Williams said. “Everyone who has been birthed into the body of Christ needs to worship Him for just Who He is, and then give Him some praise for what He’s done for you. And then not only did Nehemiah remind God of Who He is, but then he repented for what he had done. He said both I and my brethren have sinned [Nehemiah 1:6].”
Hardy, who directed worshippers into small groups, said, “The scriptures say [Jehoshaphat] held a church-wide prayer meeting. [He said] we’re going to pray about this thing. He said we’re going to fast about this thing, and we’re going to praise our way through.”
“And saints, although we’re on the battlefield, don’t get mixed up; the battle is not ours, but God’s,” Hardy said. “So we’re going to spend some time praying y’all. We’re not going to pretend that we’ve got it all together. ... And I know it’s a temptation to not want to pray out loud, but we’re not going to give the Devil victory.”
McCarroll called the worshippers to the altar.
“Today I challenge you to submit like you’ve never submitted before, and give your life as a living sacrifice. A good friend of mine, pastor K. Philip in India, he says where there is no sacrifice on the altar, there will be no fire from heaven,” McCarroll said. “And if you want God to change [and] consume the parts of you that you know need to grow, it won’t happen until you give yourself permission to lay it all on the altar.
“You don’t mind coming to the altar do you? For those who don’t want to change – if you don’t want to change – stay in your seat.”
Worshippers approached the altar, some standing in aisles because of the crowd.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)

Related Story:

Black church conference meets ministry needs

7/31/2015 10:08:07 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Religious freedom addressed in survey

July 30 2015 by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Research

Americans believe firmly in religious freedom but think atheists are more welcome than Muslims in the United States, Nashville-based LifeWay Research finds.
More than 90 percent say people should be free to choose and practice religious beliefs. Nearly 7 in 10 call America a nation of many religions.
Yet Americans acknowledge the nation embraces Christians and Jews more heartily than atheists or Muslims. While 92 percent agree America is a welcoming place for Christians and 87 percent agree for Jews, the number drops to 67 percent for atheists. LifeWay released the study July 29, based on a survey taken last fall.


Muslims are the least welcome, in Americans’ estimation. Fifty-seven percent say America is a welcoming place for Muslims, and 35 percent believe it is not.
“Americans are deeply committed to religious liberty, but they can look at today’s culture and see America does not always welcome everyone,” Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research vice president, said. “Welcoming people of all religions means being open to both immigrants of other faiths and citizens who choose to change their beliefs.”


Committed to religious liberty

In a phone survey of 1,000 Americans, LifeWay found nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) believe Americans have religious freedom. Almost all say Americans should be free to choose their religious beliefs (95 percent), worship with others who share their faith (95 percent), practice principles of their faith in everyday life (94 percent), build a house of worship (92 percent), and tell others about their religious beliefs (90 percent).
Americans are less certain whether owners should be free to run a business in accordance with their beliefs. Seventy-eight percent believe this aspect of religious freedom should be an American’s right. The rate falls to 64 percent among the nonreligious. The issue has been in the public eye recently as courts consider whether businesses can decline to participate in same-sex ceremonies or opt out of paying for employees’ birth control.
“Americans almost universally agree on what religious freedom means until it impacts other freedoms,” McConnell said. “Freedom to share one’s religious beliefs is a given, but some hesitate to protect business owners in the practice of their beliefs.”


Most Americans see their country as a land of religious diversity. Small segments believe America is a Christian nation (19 percent) or a secular nation (9 percent). Both are dwarfed by the 69 percent who view America as a nation of many religions.
“Debate about whether America is a Christian nation will continue,” McConnell said. “Although most Americans are Christians, they understand a nation founded on principles of religious freedom will be a nation of many faiths.”
Belief that America is a Christian nation does not rise above 1 in 4, even among the groups most likely to hold that view –Southerners (25 percent), people 55-64 years old (25 percent), and evangelicals (24 percent).
Nevertheless, more than 70 percent of Americans indicate a Christian religious preference, according to Pew Research. Non-Christian groups are tiny in comparison – atheists (3 percent), Jews (2 percent) and Muslims (1 percent). The Christian and Jewish shares of the U.S. population have been dropping, however, while the atheist and Muslim segments are increasing.


Unequally welcome

Americans are uncertain whether the growing Muslim population will be welcome. Unease has surfaced in widespread disputes over mosque construction and in a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that Abercrombie & Fitch could not refuse to hire a Muslim woman because of her head scarf. In previously released surveys, LifeWay Research found more than a third of Americans see Islam as a threat to religious freedom and worry about Sharia law, an Islamic legal and moral code, being applied in the United States.
Christians are more likely than nonreligious Americans to believe Muslims are welcome, according to the LifeWay survey. Among atheists, agnostics, and those with no religious preference, fewer than half (47 percent) say America is a welcoming place for Muslims. In contrast, 6 in 10 Christians believe Muslims are welcome, a viewpoint held most strongly by Catholics at 68 percent.


Most people of faith also believe atheists are welcome in America, but the nonreligious themselves are less likely to agree. Two-thirds (67 percent) of Christians and 78 percent of those in other religions say America is a welcoming place for atheists, but that view is shared by only 62 percent of the nonreligious.
Younger Americans are the age group most likely to see America as a welcoming place for both Muslims and atheists. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, 64 percent say America welcomes Muslims, and 79 percent say the same for atheists. Regarding Christians and Jews, however, young adults are not significantly more likely than the rest of the population to view America as a welcoming place.
Senior citizens, in contrast, are less likely to believe America welcomes anyone. Fewer than half (46 percent) of those 65 and older think the nation welcomes Muslims or atheists. And while a sizeable majority of older Americans believe the nation welcomes Christians (90 percent) and Jews (82 percent), the viewpoint is less common than among the population as a whole.
“Millennials grew up in a culture more diverse than the one their parents and grandparents knew,” McConnell said. “While many older Americans think Muslims and atheists are not welcome here, young Americans view their country as a place welcoming to all.”
Methodology: The phone survey of Americans was conducted Sept. 19-28, 2014. The calling utilized random digit dialing. Sixty percent of completes were among landlines and 40 percent among cell phones. Maximum quotas and slight weights were used for gender, region, age, ethnicity, and education to more accurately reflect the population. The completed sample is 1,000 surveys. The sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed plus or minus 3.4 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. Those labeled evangelicals consider themselves “a born again, evangelical, or fundamentalist Christian.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Lisa Cannon Green is senior writer for “Facts & Trends” magazine.)

7/30/2015 12:47:04 PM by Lisa Cannon Green, LifeWay Research | with 0 comments

Moore, others back law to protect religious liberty

July 30 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Ethicist Russell Moore has initiated an effort by Southern Baptist and other leaders calling on Congress to pass legislation to protect the religious freedom of those who object to same-sex marriage.
Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and 29 cosigners sent a July 28 letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner urging approval of the First Amendment Defense Act. The presidents of all six Southern Baptist Convention seminaries endorsed the letter.
The bill – S. 1598 in the Senate and H.R. 2802 in the House of Representatives – would bar the federal government from discriminating against a person, non-profit organization or for-profit corporation that believes or acts on a conviction that marriage is limited to a man and a woman and sex is restricted to such a marriage.
Discrimination prohibited by the First Amendment Defense Act would include revocation of tax exemption and denial of a deduction for a charitable contribution based on belief in the biblical, traditional definition of marriage as only a heterosexual union. It also would ban such discriminatory actions as refusing a federal grant or benefit based on the same conviction.
The legislation – with Republicans Mike Lee of Utah in the Senate and Raul Labrador of Idaho in the House as sponsors – has almost no Democratic support so far. Of the 36 Senate and 145 House cosponsors, Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D.-Ill., is the lone Democrat.


The bill – and the new letter urging its adoption – comes at a time when religious liberty in the United States appears threatened in the wake of the Supreme Court’s June 26 legalization of same-sex marriage.
That ruling “has shaken millions of people of faith in our nation,” Moore and the others said in their letter. “As a result of this ruling, the very meaning of religious freedom is under scrutiny in many circles today.”
The letter said, “Governmental discrimination on the basis of religious belief and practice about marriage will have devastating effects on people of faith, their institutions, and the communities they serve. Millions of law-abiding, faithful people are likely to be suddenly deemed bigots and social outcasts. Their institutions will be crippled and many may cease to exist. Most distressing, millions of people will lose the safety net and affirming services they depend on each and every day, from daycare to meals to job training to adoption.”
The letter cited ominous comments from Solicitor General Donald Verrilli about tax exemption during the March oral arguments in the marriage case. When asked if a college or university would lose its tax exemption for opposing gay marriage, Verrilli said, “[I]t is going to be an issue.”
Moore and his fellow signers noted, “It should not be ‘an issue’ for any individual or institution to be discriminated against by the federal government for deciding to honor the dictates of their faith regarding marriage.”
Until recently, heterosexual marriage “was the only acceptable form of marriage in practically every society on the planet,” the letter said. “It would then seem arbitrary and capricious to marginalize or punish persons and institutions whose definition of marriage the government shared up until last month.
“No one in this country should face the discriminatory power of the federal government over a matter so fundamental to the religious teachings of most of the world’s faiths as marriage.”
The Southern Baptist seminary presidents signing the letter were: Daniel Akin, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jason Allen, Midwestern Seminary; Jeff Iorg, Golden Gate Seminary; Chuck Kelley, New Orleans Seminary; R. Albert Mohler, Southern Seminary; and Paige Patterson, Southwestern Seminary.
Other signers from educational institutions affiliated with Southern Baptists were Steve Lemke, provost, New Orleans Seminary; Barry Creamer, president, Criswell College; Thomas White, president, Cedarville University; C. Ben Mitchell, provost, Union University; and Tony Beam, vice president, North Greenville University.
Among other signers of the letter were Samuel Rodriguez, president, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Richard Malone, chairman, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee on laity, marriage, family life and youth; Jerry Johnson, president, National Religious Broadcasters; Penny Nance, president, Concerned Women for America; David Stevens, chief executive officer, Christian Medical Association; and Richard Land, president, Southern Evangelical Seminary.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

7/30/2015 12:38:02 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New rules protect military from predatory loans

July 30 2015 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

The Obama administration has issued new rules strengthening protections for military service members against predatory lending, a problem Southern Baptists increasingly are addressing.
The final regulations, announced July 21 by President Obama, closed loopholes in the Military Lending Act, a 2007 law designed to keep predatory lenders from targeting and abusing United States service members and their families. Households that take out payday loans are about twice as likely as others to include a member of the military, the White House reported, citing a Pew Charitable Trusts study.
Commonly referred to as payday lending, the predatory practice often draws poor people in particular into a debt trap by charging excessive, and often misleading, interest rates. Though an interest rate may be portrayed by a lender as 15 percent, for instance, it actually is only for a two-week period until a person’s next payday. The annual interest rate typically is about 400 percent, making it difficult for the borrower to repay the loan. It requires years for some people to pay off their loans.
Southern Baptists addressed the predatory loan industry in a resolution adopted by messengers during their 2014 annual meeting. The resolution denounced predatory payday lending, called for the adoption of just government policies to end the practice and urged churches to provide training in financial stewardship.


In mid-May, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) helped launch the Faith for Just Lending Coalition. The diverse alliance – which includes Baptists, other evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants – is seeking to increase awareness of predatory lending and to motivate individuals, lenders, churches and the government to help bring an end to the practice.
“The church should be involved in reining in this industry,” said Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research. “By doing so, we follow the Lord’s own example of caring for the poor and destitute.”
Duke said “a need for small, unsecured loans” exists, but “the payday lending industry has demonstrated it cannot be trusted to provide this service without government guidance. Everything from the duration of the loan, to the exorbitant interest rates, to the collection processes must be subjected to regulation. To do anything less is to abandon vulnerable, desperate people to a rapacious group of legal loan sharks.”
While the new rules announced July 21 affect members of the military, advocates for reform of the predatory loan industry hope the federal government will act soon to provide across-the-board protections. The cap of 36 percent for the annual percentage rate for service members would be a good rule for all Americans, according to the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL).
Mike Calhoun, CRL’s president, said the 36 percent cap “is fair and responsible, and a powerful case can be made for applying it to all consumers, including veterans, who are not protected by the rules when they leave military service.”
“If the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also takes strong action later this year to curtail some of the most deceptive and exploitative practices used by payday, car-title and installment lenders, it will go a long way toward slamming shut the debt trap for all consumers,” Calhoun said in a July 21 written statement.
Twelve million Americans are trapped annually in payday loans with 400 percent interest, CRL reported. More than 20,000 payday and car-title loan stores exist in the United States, according to the Faith for Just Lending Coalition. Payday lenders also operate online in a country that has a variety of state and local laws regarding the practice.
The Military Lending Act originally applied a 36 percent interest rate to some loans but allowed predatory lenders still to take advantage of military families in some cases. The new regulations act more comprehensively. For instance, they close loopholes that enabled payday loans larger than $2,000 or longer than 91 days, according to the White House.
At its May launch, the Faith for Just Lending Coalition announced the following principles:

  • “Individuals should manage their resources responsibly and conduct their affairs ethically, saving for emergencies, and being willing to provide support to others in need.

  • “Churches should teach and model responsible stewardship, offering help to neighbors in times of crisis.

  • “Lenders should extend loans at reasonable interest rates based on ability to repay within the original loan period, taking into account the borrower’s income and expenses.

  • “Government should prohibit usury and predatory or deceptive lending practices.”

In addition to the ERLC, other members of the Faith for Just Lending Coalition are the National Association of Evangelicals; U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Cooperative Baptist Fellowship; National Baptist Convention, USA; National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Center for Public Justice; PICO National Network; and Ecumenical Poverty Initiative.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

7/30/2015 12:30:43 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

3rd video may build pro-life momentum

July 30 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Some 13,000 pro-life activists called on Congress to defund Planned Parenthood at more than 60 rallies across America on the same day the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a third video showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of baby parts obtained through abortion.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the Senate will vote on defunding Planned Parenthood before Congress’s August recess. The House appears unlikely to vote on defunding before the recess, though pressure on Speaker John Boehner to schedule a vote is mounting, the Hill reported. President Obama is expected to veto any bill defunding America’s largest abortion provider.
Richard Land, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission who was instrumental in highlighting the blight of abortion to Southern Baptists, said the Center for Medical Progress videos have the potential to incite enough public outcry to provoke legislators to override a presidential veto. Land noted that the third video, which was released July 28, is “really grotesque” in its depiction of abortion clinic workers examining baby parts and discussing their sale.


Reaching a veto-proof majority in Congress will require “making the political pain of not defunding worse than the political pain of defunding,” said Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary. He noted controversy sparked by the videos “has the potential to become the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the abortion debate,” a reference to the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel that “put a human face on slavery for a lot of Northern readers” and incited outrage toward slavery.
The third CMP video includes footage of a former employee of Stem Express, a company that supplies human tissue to biomedical researchers, discussing her experience procuring baby organs at a Planned Parenthood clinic. The video also shows what appear to be baby parts in clear pie dishes sitting atop a light source.
A physician identified as Savita Ginde, vice president and medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains in Denver, says in the video, “I think the per-item [pricing] works a little better just because we can see how much we can get out of it.”
The nationwide rallies, organized by Students for Life of America (SFLA) and Pro-Life Future, attempted to translate the outrage stemming from the CMP videos into concrete political action. Though tallies of the number of gatherings varied, Students for Life of America said it “conservatively” estimated that protests occurred in 65 cities. SFLA President Kristan Hawkins told LifeSiteNews the rallies led at least two women not to follow through with their planned abortions.
The rallies were catalogued on social media under the hashtag #WomenBetrayed.
“Hundreds are showing up at each event and the grassroots are on fire,” Hawkins said. “Every news outlet was at the D.C. rally, and we are seeing articles in the media from nearly every rally. It’s been an incredible day uncovering the truth about Planned Parenthood and making sure all Americans know what goes on behind closed doors and how the abortion giant makes money off of women in their times of crisis.”
The rally in Washington drew more than 500 people, including three Republican presidential candidates: Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Ben Carson, the Daily Signal reported.
Carson said it is “such a gross distortion of God’s original intent” to believe women have the right to kill their unborn children, Politico reported. He lamented that America has “gradually slid in terms of our morals to a point where we don’t really care about the killing of human beings.” The “good news” is that “we are changing.”
In related news, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton told the New Hampshire Union Leader the CMP videos are “disturbing” and said congressional investigations should examine the entire abortion industry, not just Planned Parenthood.
“I have seen pictures from [the videos] and obviously find them disturbing,” Clinton said. “Planned Parenthood is answering questions and will continue to answer questions. I think there are two points to make. One, Planned Parenthood for more than a century has done a lot of really good work for women: cancer screenings, family planning, all kinds of health services. And this raises not questions about Planned Parenthood so much as it raises questions about the whole process, that is, not just involving Planned Parenthood, but many institutions in our country.
“And if there’s going to be any kind of congressional inquiry, it should look at everything and not just one” organization, Clinton said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

Related Stories:

ERLC endorses bill to defund Planned Parenthood
First Choice delievers hope for unplanned pregnancies
New video shows PPFA doctor negotiating prices

7/30/2015 11:45:22 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Blind student teaches VBS to Lakota children

July 30 2015 by Jim Burton, Baptist Press

The Lakota children in South Dakota were rambunctious. School was out, and a team of teenagers and their leaders from Alabama had come to lead Vacation Bible School.
When Ahbee Orton positioned herself in front of the class at First Baptist Church in Eagle Butte, the children became quiet and attentive. The 15-year-old ethnic Chinese is hardly a master teacher or experienced in classroom discipline – she had never taught a Bible study before.
Ahbee opened a large notebook she had meticulously prepared long before arriving in South Dakota. With her fingers, she began to scan the coded bumps on the paper. Blind since birth, she was reading braille.
“It was an amazing moment,” said Ryan Tyler, youth minister at Ahbee’s church, Highland Baptist in Florence, Ala.
“They had gone from jumping off the walls to sitting down because this young lady is different. They wanted to hear what she had to say and how she said it,” Tyler recounted.


Photo by Noah Tidmore
With her walking stick at her side, Ahbee Orton joins other marching band members for practice at Florence High School in Alabama after a summer that included a mission trip to teach Lakota children in South Dakota during a Vacation Bible School. Though blind since birth, Ahbee will play a synthesizer during her freshman year.

Ben Farrar, pastor of First Baptist in Eagle Butte for four years, marveled at how Ahbee’s teaching captivated the children.
“They had never seen anything like braille in their life,” Farrar said.
Apparently, the Lakota children listened well to Ahbee. When she posed various questions to the children, they were able to answer each one.
Ahbee’s adoptive parents, Joy and Paul Orton, have no information about her birth family in China. When they adopted her at age four, they only knew that the orphanage received Ahbee after someone found her in a marketplace.
The Ortons named her Gabriella, but their new child was calling herself Ahbee, which is a derivative of her Chinese name. From the beginning, they could tell she was independent.
After arriving in Alabama, she began using a white cane. Later, the family arranged for her to get a seeing-eye dog, which she used for years until announcing one day that she was relying too much on the animal.
“I’m better off without the dog and using my walking stick,” Ahbee stated. “It challenges me more.” The family returned the dog for retraining to serve another person.
The Ortons fell in love with Ahbee as she was being adopted, even with her challenges.
“If a family has a child who is born blind there is some grief,” Joy said. “But it was not a disaster or tragedy for us.”
The Ortons helped Ahbee learn skills that would make blindness more of a nuisance or inconvenience than a disability.
“She has chores at home. She is very trustworthy and responsible,” Joy said. “If that’s her job to feed the dog or empty the dishwasher, she will do it.”
Soon after adopting Ahbee, the Ortons had two biological daughters, Elizabeth and Sarah, who are now 9 and 6. Ahbee and her family had been on other mission trips together, but this was the first time she had gone without either parent. Even as Ahbee was learning more about her capabilities and independence, the Highland Baptist youth group also was learning about her as a person and her challenges.
For Tyler, even with 25 years of experience as a youth minister, helping Ahbee assimilate into the youth group brought new knowledge. For instance, the other students didn’t immediately realize that Ahbee could hear them.
“At first it was difficult,” Tyler said. “They thought that because she couldn’t see them, she didn’t know they were there.”
If people ask her questions, Ahbee said the inquiries are predictable. What’s that stick? What do you use it for? Why do you have it?
“I prefer them to ask and come straight up to me,” Ahbee said.
With a growing understanding among other Highland Baptist teens about Ahbee’s realities, Tyler had no hesitation about her venture to South Dakota.
“I’ve seen her and how she does things and how our group has learned to be aware of situations to head off so Ahbee doesn’t have any major difficulty,” Tyler said.
As Ahbee puts it, “I think the other kids in the youth group have a better understanding of what I can do.”
Joy and Paul Orton met at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Joy had already served one term as a Journeyman with the International Mission Board. Missions is central to their family.
While 15-year-olds rarely know definitively what their career choice might be, Joy believes that the South Dakota trip will “strengthen her interest in ministry.”
Ahbee starts high school this fall in Florence where she will play the synthesizer in the marching band. She’s near the top of her class academically, Joy said, and her language arts skills are outstanding.
Ahbee’s birthday was during the mission trip, so leaders prepared a cake with candles for her to blow out.
“The reason we get to celebrate this moment is that somebody thought that a blind girl was not worth keeping,” Tyler told the youth. “But the Ortons brought her to us.
“She is not just surviving in our midst, she is thriving amongst us.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jim Burton is a writer and photojournalist in Atlanta.)

7/30/2015 11:37:16 AM by Jim Burton, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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