July 2015

New book, Within Reach, relays insight for student ministry

January 16 2019 by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources

Today’s high school graduate is faced with an abundance of choices. Go to college or enter the workforce? Dorm life, apartment life or mom and dad’s basement? But no decision may be as important as whether to continue attending church.

A study from LifeWay Research and LifeWay Students, released Jan. l5, reveals that two out of three young adults who attend a Protestant church for at least a year in high school will stop attending church regularly for at least a year between ages 18-22.
Within Reach:  The Power of Small Changes in Keeping Students Connected, a new book by Ben Trueblood, explores the research and the differences between young people who dropped out of church and those who stayed.
“One of the first things that jumped out at us was the decline in the percentage of dropouts from a decade earlier,” said Trueblood, LifeWay’s director of student ministry. In 2007, LifeWay Research found 70 percent of teens who were active in church during their high school years dropped out of the church during their college years, compared to 66 percent in 2017.
“While 66 percent is still a significant share of teens dropping out of church, we didn’t want to overlook the slight decrease,” he said.
Trueblood also noted another data point that jumped out from the research. Of the 66 percent who left the church during their college years, 71 percent didn’t intend on doing so.
“It’s important to note that the majority of dropouts never plan on leaving; it just happens,” Trueblood said. “Young adults aren’t walking away from church because they’re bitter at the church or have lost their faith. Instead, things come up – work, school projects, extracurricular activities – and many young adults simply fall out of the habit of going to church.”
Within Reach presents the 10 strongest predictors of young adults staying or dropping out of church after high school, which includes parental influence, regular Bible reading and the investment of adults.
“One of the most influential aspects of a student’s spiritual development is the investment of multiple adults speaking into their lives,” Trueblood said. “Since that’s the case, church leaders need to make an intentional effort to regularly train the volunteers who work with students. Equipping adults to serve in student ministry is vital to the spiritual health of students.”
In the book, Trueblood unpacks each of the predictors and offers insight on how churches can capitalize on those things that influence church attendance among young adults.
“I pray church leaders will be willing to spend time digesting what is and isn’t working in student ministry, according to the research, and make adjustments that will keep students grounded in their faith and committed to the church,” Trueblood said.
To order a copy of Within Reach, visit LifeWay.com.

1/16/2019 10:29:33 AM by Carol Pipes, LifeWay Christian Resources | with 0 comments

Judges block rules on abortion mandate

January 16 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Federal conscience protections for American employers who object to the abortion/contraception mandate are on hold.
Federal judges in California and Pennsylvania blocked Jan. 13 and Jan. 14, respectively, implementation of final rules from the Trump administration that provided exemptions for employers with religious or moral objections to the 2011 requirement instituted under President Obama.
The opinions prevented rules issued in November by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from taking effect Monday while challenges proceed in the courts. The ruling in Pennsylvania was a preliminary injunction for the entire country, while the decision in California affected the 13 states, as well as the District of Columbia, that have sued HHS.
The court actions are the latest shots in a seven-year battle over a controversial regulation that helped implement the 2010 health-care reform law. The rule required employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions, or face potentially devastating fines. It elicited legal challenges from more than 90 religious nonprofit organizations, including GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and at least seven Baptist universities.
One of the new regulations issued Nov. 7 exempts entities and individuals from the mandate based on their religious beliefs, while the other rule protects individuals, nonprofit organizations and small businesses on the basis of a moral conviction apart from a specific religious belief.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), which advocated for an exemption to the mandate for GuideStone and other religious or moral objectors, expressed continued support for the new HHS rules.
“The contraceptive mandate revealed the audacity of a state that believed it could annex the human conscience,” ERLC President Russell Moore said in written comments for Baptist Press. “This government overreach asks citizens to choose between obedience to God and compliance with the regulatory state.
“The Little Sisters of the Poor victory at the Supreme Court and the HHS religious and moral exemptions were crucial achievements in the preservation of religious liberty and must be defended.”
The final HHS rules issued in November came more than two years after the U.S. Supreme Court nullified multiple federal appeals court decisions against GuideStone and other religious institutions and more than four years following the justices’ decision in favor of Hobby Lobby’s conscience-based challenge to the mandate.
In a statement published by The Washington Post, Kelly Laco of the Department of Justice said, “As we’ve said before, religious organizations should not be forced to violate their mission and deeply-held beliefs. In this case and others, the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously defending religious liberty.”
GuideStone and two of the ministries it represents – as well as some other objecting organizations – already have gained final, favorable verdicts in court, but some have not.
The new court decisions in California and Pennsylvania came in cases involving state challenges to exemptions for the Little Sisters of the Poor. Lawsuits by those states will continue as a result of the federal court injunctions. The Little Sisters of the Poor is a Roman Catholic order that serves the poverty-stricken elderly and became the face of the institutions objecting to the mandate.
Mark Rienzi – president of the religious freedom legal organization Becket and lead lawyer for the Little Sisters – said, “Government bureaucrats should not be allowed to threaten the rights of the Little Sisters of the Poor to serve according to their Catholic beliefs. Now the nuns are forced to keep fighting this unnecessary lawsuit to protect their ability to focus on caring for the poor.
In a written statement, Rienzi expressed confidence the decisions would be overturned.
A leading abortion rights organization praised the nationwide injunction against the HHS rules.
“This rule would have given employers a license to discriminate against their employees, and we applaud the court recognizing that employers have no place in making decisions about the healthcare of their employees,” said Ilyse Hoge, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in written comments.
In her opinion out of federal court in Pennsylvania, Wendy Beetlestone said HHS’ final rules regarding the mandate sweep “further than [the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] would require.” That 1993 law requires the government to have a compelling interest and use the narrowest possible means in burdening free exercise of religion.
In issuing a nation-wide exemption, Beetlestone cited these as harms if the HHS rules are implemented – “numerous citizens losing contraceptive coverage, resulting in ‘significant, direct and proprietary harm’ to the States in the form of increased use of state-funded contraceptive services, as well as increase costs associated with unintended pregnancies.”
In May 2016, the Supreme Court invalidated multiple federal appeals court decisions against the religious institutions and blocked the Obama administration from imposing fines on them. The justices told the appeals courts involved to give the parties an opportunity to reach a solution “that accommodates petitioners’ religious exercise while at the same time ensuring that women covered by petitioners’ health plans receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage.” No agreement was reached before Obama left office in January 2017.
When it issued the controversial rule in 2011, HHS provided an exemption for churches and their auxiliaries but did not extend it to non-church-related, nonprofit organizations that object. HHS proposed nearly 10 accommodations for the objecting institutions, but none proved satisfactory to their conscience concerns.
The federally approved contraceptives for which coverage is required by the mandate include the intrauterine device (IUD) and such drugs as Plan B, the “morning-after” pill. Both the IUD and “morning-after” pill possess post-fertilization mechanisms that potentially can cause abortions by preventing implantation of tiny embryos. The rule also covers “ella,” which – in a fashion similar to the abortion drug RU 486 – can act even after implantation to end the life of the child.
GuideStone, the SBC’s health and financial benefits entity, was exempt from the mandate, but it serves ministries that are required to obey it.
In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby’s challenge to the abortion/contraception mandate. In its 5-4 opinion in that case, the justices upheld objections to the requirement by “closely held,” for-profit companies, such as family owned businesses.
Messengers to the 2012 SBC meeting adopted a resolution calling for an exemption from the mandate for “all religious organizations and people of faith ... who declare a religious objection to such coverage.”

1/16/2019 10:29:22 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

European homeschool ruling ‘ignores’ parents’ rights

January 16 2019 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling to uphold Germany’s homeschool prohibition has been called a matter of concern for “anyone who cares about freedom.”

ADF International photo
Germany’s prohibition of home education does not violate the rights of the Wunderlichs, a German family that homeschools its four children, according to the European Court of Human Rights.

The ECHR, based in Strasbourg, France, ruled Jan. 10 that Dirk and Petra Wunderlich’s human rights were not violated when German officials forcibly removed their four children from the family home near Darmstadt, Germany, for three weeks in 2013. At issue was the Wunderlichs’ refusal to stop homeschooling.
A German court previously determined the children’s level of education “was not alarming” and they did not face a risk of physical harm at home, according to the ECHR’s ruling. Still, the Wunderlichs have no right to homeschool under the European Convention on Human Rights, the ECHR said.
Paul Coleman, executive director of Alliance Defending Freedom International (ADF), a legal organization that represents the Wunderlichs, said the ruling “ignores the fact that Germany’s policy on homeschooling violates the rights of parents to educate their children and direct their upbringing.
“It is alarming to see that this was not recognized by the most influential human rights court in Europe,” Coleman said according to an ADF release. “This ruling is a step in the wrong direction and should concern anyone who cares about freedom.”
The Wunderlichs may appeal to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber, the court’s highest level, their ADF International attorney Robert Clarke said.
Germany argues children must attend school to learn “tolerance” and how “to hold fast to their convictions against majority views,” Clarke told The World and Everything in It podcast. Yet the ECHR’s ruling suggests “the government is allowed to be utterly intolerant” and that “if you stand fast to your convictions against majority-held views, then your house is going to get surrounded by police officers and your children are going to get taken away.”
Germany “really stands alone” among European nations in its level of resistance to homeschooling, Clarke said.
In a related case, the Romeike family fled Germany for the U.S. in 2008 amid mounting fines and risk of losing custody of homeschooled children. The Romeikes requested asylum in the U.S. and lost their court battle, but in 2014 the Department of Homeland Security allowed them to remain in the country.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of Germany’s homeschooling prohibition, according to DW.com, Germany’s public international broadcast service. The only exceptions are for severe illness, children of diplomats and working children like child actors. Between 500 and 1,000 German families are believed to be homeschooling.
In the U.S., the federal Department of Education estimates there are more than 2 million homeschool students. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) reports varying levels of regulation among U.S. states and claims homeschool families occasionally face unjust harassment from government authorities.
In December, a Massachusetts mother filed a lawsuit claiming law enforcement officers handcuffed her and took her to the police station over her decision to homeschool her son, Boston’s WBUR radio reported.
In Puerto Rico, a mother’s decision to homeschool her four youngest children eventuated in a court order to remove them from her home, HSLDA reported in November. Eventually, the mother was cleared of wrongdoing and the case was resolved without removal of the children.
When the Wunderlichs appealed their case to the ECHR in April, HSLDA’s Mike Donnelly said, “Human rights experts at the UN and scholars worldwide have found that home education is a natural, fundamental and protected human right.”

1/16/2019 10:29:09 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bailey Smith, early SBC conservative president, dies

January 15 2019 by Christian Index & Baptist Press Staff

Evangelist Bailey Smith, who helped sustain the Conservative Resurgence at its outset in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), died Jan. 14 at his home in Duluth, Ga. He was 79.
Smith’s election as SBC president in 1980 was the second victory for conservatives following the landmark election of the late Memphis pastor Adrian Rogers in 1979.

J. Gerald Harris, retired editor of Georgia Baptists’ Christian Index newsjournal, described Smith as “a powerful preacher, devoted pastor and faithful friend” in an obituary posted Jan. 15 at the Index’s online news site.
Harris wrote that Smith told him he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April 2017. “I was stunned and heartbroken, but he was calm and demonstrated an imperturbable peace at the threshold of the personal physical storm he was entering.”
After receiving care from Atlanta-area cancer specialists, Smith went to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Smith and his wife Sandy remained in a Houston hotel for months for further diagnosis, chemotherapy and observation. Doctors ultimately recommended a complicated cancer surgery known as the Whipple procedure that, as Harris described it, offered “a five-year survival rate of up to 25 percent. Although the skill of the surgeon and excellent care of the hospital was commendable, the surgery was not successful.”
Smith’s two terms as SBC president (1980-1982) were marked by his resolute preaching of the gospel. At one point, he sparked a national controversy over his declaration that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.” The comments, spoken at an evangelical gathering in Dallas that included remarks by Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan, subsequently were clarified by Smith and others that he was speaking from a theological, not racial, standpoint.
“Most Baptists have known Bailey Smith as both a successful pastor and an effective evangelist for more than six decades,” Harris wrote, “and his death has left a significant spiritual void in the 21st-century church that seems to be struggling to keep evangelism a priority.”
The book “The Sacred Trust” by Emir and Ergun Caner stated, “Without a doubt [Bailey] Smith is the ideal personification of a Christian who has an unwavering, single-minded commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission.”
Bailey Eugene Smith was born in Dallas on Jan. 30, 1939, the son of the Rev. Bailey E. Smith and his wife Frances. He graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark., in 1961 and from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1966.
Smith led churches in Texas, Arkansas and New Mexico before being called, at age 34, as pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., where he served 12 years. At the time of his election as SBC president, Smith was the youngest man ever to lead the convention, Harris wrote, noting that he earlier had served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference and the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma simultaneously.
Harris wrote that TIME magazine described Smith as “a formidable figure, a fiery, red-haired, old style prairie stemwinder.” Christianity Today referred to him as “an inerrancy superstar.”
“In 1980 the Del City church baptized 2,000 persons, an accomplishment unprecedented in Christian history,” Harris wrote. “In the 12 years Smith was the pastor … the membership grew from 6,600 to more than 20,000, and in a convention that was known for thriving on growth and soul-winning, Bailey Smith was known as a pacesetter.
“In 1985 the Del City church was flourishing, but Smith sensed a definite call from God to become a vocational evangelist,” Harris continued. “He is the only former president of the Southern Baptist Convention to enter crusade evangelism.” Bailey Smith Ministries conducted area-wide crusades, church revivals, Bible conferences, ladies’ retreats and overseas ministries.
Smith’s Real Evangelism Conferences “touched and changed countless lives for three decades,” Harris wrote. First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., led by Johnny Hunt hosted one of Smith’s conferences.
“There is no finer Bible Conference in America than Bailey Smith’s Real Evangelism Conference,” Hunt said. “It will take heaven to reveal what has happened in the hearts of pastors since Bailey Smith allowed God to use him to begin these Christ-honoring events. I believe that time will tell that there has been no man alive any more passionate about winning souls for Christ than Dr. Bailey Smith.”
Smith authored several books, including “Real Evangelism,” “Taking Back the Gospel,” “Real Christianity,” “Real Christian Excellence” and “The Grace Escape.” Harris wrote that Smith was working on his autobiography at the time of his death.
Smith is survived by his wife of 55 years, Sandy, and three sons, Bailey Scott; Steven, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.; and Josh, pastor of Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Bogart, Ga.; and eight grandchildren.
A graveside service for the immediate family will be held at First Baptist Church in Warren, Ark., where Smith once served as pastor, followed by a memorial service at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 30 at One Heart Church in Norcross, Ga.

1/15/2019 1:54:44 PM by Christian Index & Baptist Press Staff | with 0 comments

Former N.C. pastor answers plea for help at Tijuana border

January 15 2019 by Liz Tablazon, BR Staff Writer

The day Juvenal Gonzalez spoke with the Biblical Recorder started just like every other day for him since early December: preparing and serving breakfast – tamales, chilaquiles, sometimes bacon and eggs and pancakes – to asylum seekers at El Barretal, an abandoned concert venue in Tijuana, Mexico, that now houses caravan migrants from Central America.

Photo courtesy of Juvenal Gonzalez
Volunteers serve breakfast to asylum seekers staying at El Barretal, a temporary shelter in Tijuana, Mexico.

Gonzalez serves as the church planting catalyst missionary for the San Diego Southern Baptist Association (SDSBA). He began the role in 2006 after moving from Lumberton, N.C., where he founded and pastored Iglesia Bautista Betel for 13 years. Now he works with existing congregations to start new churches in Tijuana, one of Mexico’s largest and fastest growing cities.
“Some people migrate from the earthquakes, some people from the cartel, running from the dangers,” Gonzalez said. Thousands made the journey on foot and in vehicles, primarily from Honduras, with some from El Salvador and Guatemala.
El Barretal is a 30-minute drive from the San Ysidro Port of Entry, where migrants can check on their place in line to file an asylum claim in the United States. At some ports of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials can only process 20 people per day, extending wait times for asylum seekers.
When Gonzalez first met migrants at El Barretal last month, there were 3,000 at the center. Today 700 remain.
“The majority of these people, they already crossed,” he said, only to find themselves in detention centers in California and Arizona.
The Mexican government opened El Barretal as a shelter when another facility, a sports complex called Deportivo Benito Juárez, became overcrowded and littered with trash and sewage. It was there that Gonzalez, along with his wife, two sons and daughter, first provided migrants with coffee and bread. They ran out quickly.
“The next day they call us. The immigration from Mexico call us and asked if we can feed women and children. There was big rain coming, so we prepared chicken soup. I asked what time they want it, and they say, ‘Hold, hold, hold.’”
Around 7 p.m., Gonzalez heard back from officials who requested he take the food to the new site instead.
“So we wait with chicken soup at El Barretal, and as soon as they arrived, it was wet, raining hard, so we received people with the chicken soup plate.”

Photo courtesy of Juvenal Gonzalez
Migrants at El Barretal wait in line to celebrate Christmas with a meal.

Two other pastors and several local church members have since joined the family on their daily visits to the shelter.
“I try not to be busy so I can talk to people,” Gonzalez said. “Somebody will ask me if I’ll pray for them, if I’ll talk to them, if I’ll listen to them. One of the great needs is spiritual. We need churches. We need brothers and sisters that can come and spend the whole day teaching and praying for them.”
An immigrant himself who first came to the U.S. for work, Gonzalez said he was initially “a little slow in getting into” ministry to asylum seekers.
“When the government in Mexico knows that you’re a pastor and you care for people, how can you say no?” he said. “So when they called me, it was like an open door to show the government the love of Christ and also to show the people from the caravan that God really cares for them.”
The immigration official who contacted Gonzalez met him two years ago, when his church served as a sanctuary for Haitian refugees.
“Right now the government here in Tijuana, they really trust in me. Whatever I say, they say, ‘Yeah, pastor, we’re gonna do it.’ It’s really a testimony for us as a Christian to come and serve,” he said.
“For me, it was not a matter of taking sides – that they come illegally, or they’re gonna be legal – my first response was: Christ opened the door for me to show His love. … Some people think that they don’t deserve, but nobody deserves.
“So to me, it was more like, hey, I need to be obedient helping the poor, the needy, the widow and the children. For me, it was like a wake-up call when they called me.”
Gonzalez told the Recorder he is prepared to welcome teams that want to care for people at El Barretal. With support from SDSBA, he can offer transportation and housing for church groups visiting from the U.S. The time he could spend in conversation with individuals and families is limited by the demands of food distribution. He simply needs more people.
Alan Cross, missional strategist for the Montgomery Baptist Association in Alabama, traveled to Tijuana in December. He visited the border wall at the Pacific Ocean, where Christians on the U.S. side of the wall gathered to pray and sing.
“In the midst of the news stories and concern about the border, I saw the church at work on both sides ministering, praying and being the hands and feet of Jesus to migrants,” Cross said in a statement to the Recorder. “I saw them being treated as people in need and not political objects. The church transcends borders and is transforming this controversy into opportunity for ministry and the gospel of the Kingdom to be proclaimed and demonstrated to these desperate people.
“I pray that Southern Baptists will further join with missionaries like Juvenal to share the love of Christ with the migrants coming to us for help.”
In addition to physical presence at El Barretal, Gonzalez asked for prayer for more opportunities to minister to asylum seekers. Individuals and churches can also make financial contributions to SDSBA for the work in Tijuana. Visit sdsba.net to donate.

1/15/2019 11:26:26 AM by Liz Tablazon, BR Staff Writer | with 0 comments

Trafficking bill applauded, bolstered with ministry

January 15 2019 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Amid the gridlock of a partial federal government shutdown, President Donald Trump and lawmakers came together across party lines to enact anti-human trafficking legislation named for the 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Clerk.house.gov photo
Despite the gridlock of a partial federal government shutdown, both houses of Congress overwhelmingly passed an anti-human trafficking bill signed by President Trump Jan. 8.

Travis Wussow, vice president for public policy with Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, voiced gratitude “for the leadership of Congressman Chris Smith [a New Jersey Republican who sponsored the legislation] and all those who worked to see the Fredrick Douglass bill become law.”
“This Act brings new resources to the tireless fight of seeking freedom for captives and justice for perpetrators of this grievous evil,” Wussow said. “We pray that our government’s efforts will honor this bill’s namesake by abolishing the terror of slavery both here and abroad.”
Signed into law Jan. 8 by President Trump, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act passed the House 368-7 and the Senate by voice vote.
The bill authorizes some $430 million over four years to combat sex and labor trafficking in the U.S. and abroad. It focuses on prevention education, help for trafficking victims, facilitating trafficking-free supply chains in U.S. commerce and training U.S. airline employees to recognize trafficking.
President Trump signed three additional anti-trafficking bills between Dec. 21 and Jan. 9.
“This is an urgent humanitarian issue,” Trump said, according to a White House release. “My administration is committed to leveraging every resource we have to confront this threat, to support the victims and survivors and to hold traffickers accountable for their heinous crimes.”
Southern Baptists have combatted human trafficking via local ministries, Southern Baptist Convention resolutions and a 2010-2014 campaign by the Woman’s Missionary Union to end human exploitation.
The latest Southern Baptist Convention resolution on trafficking, adopted in 2013, estimated 27 million persons worldwide were being held in some form of slavery, including forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The resolution encouraged support of “agencies and ministries which help rescue and rehabilitate trafficking victims.” It also “call[ed] upon Southern Baptists to support public policies” that combat trafficking.
Key Bennett, a SEND Relief missionary in New Orleans for the North American Mission Board (NAMB), has worked with human trafficking victims for a decade. She said helping those who are trafficked requires churches both to advocate just public policy and engage in hands-on ministry.
“It’s about being Jesus to the people that come our way,” said Bennett, executive director of the Baptist Friendship House, a joint ministry of NAMB and the New Orleans Baptist Association that ministers to homeless women and children. Jesus “would minister to the human trafficking victim,” she said.
Bennett partners with local law enforcement officials to give trafficking victims basic supplies like food and clothing as well as housing, protection and transportation back to their homes. The SEND Relief website lists at least 15 ways each church can help trafficking victims. Among them: teach life skills, assist with financial planning, offer counseling services and encourage lawmakers to pass legislation against human trafficking.
“It takes all of our churches [and] our Southern Baptist entities ... working together to make a difference in regard to human trafficking,” Bennett told Baptist Press.
Douglass (1818-95) – the namesake of the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act – was a Maryland slave who found faith in Christ during his teen years and escaped from slavery at age 20 in 1838. He became an author and speaker in the abolitionist movement.
Douglass rebuked the hypocrisy of Christians who supported slavery, which he believed was inconsistent with the gospel. “I love that religion,” Douglass wrote in his 1855 autobiography, “that is based upon the glorious principle, of love to God and love to man; which makes its followers do unto others as they themselves would be done by.”
Kenneth Morris, a descendant of Douglass and president of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, said upon Trump’s signing of the bill, “If my great ancestor were here today, I believe he would be driven to lead the struggle against contemporary forms of slavery,” according to a release from Smith’s office.

1/15/2019 11:25:30 AM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Foster care and adoption infused into church plant

January 15 2019 by Chris Forbes, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma

From a church planting perspective, The Well is averaging approximately 100 in weekly attendance, recently baptizing several new believers.

Photo provided
Adoption is “gospel language,” says church planter Stephen Myers, pictured with his wife Jonna and their adopted daughter Lydia Faith.

Meanwhile, the planters – Stephen Myers and Steven Giblet – have worked to cultivate a culture within the church conducive to foster care and adoption.
Now in its second year, the church plant of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma currently is meeting at Canyon Ridge Intermediate School in the Mustang school district.
“Our goal is to make much of Jesus in our city and beyond by making disciples who are satisfied in Him. Foster care and adoption fit into our goal because adoption is gospel language,” Myers, The Well’s lead pastor, explained. “Choosing to love children who don’t have a home and bringing them into your home points to the reality of what God has done for us through His Son Jesus.”
Through the church plant, Myers and Giblet, pastor of care and discipleship, are disciple-makers leading by example. Myers and his wife Jonna have adopted a daughter named Lydia. Giblet and his wife Jessica have fostered many children, eventually adopting Demetri.
“When Jonna and I married, the plan was to wait a couple of years and then start a family,” Myers said. “From the beginning, adopting a child was one of the ways we wanted to grow our family. We just didn’t realize that it would be the only way for us to grow our family.”
Stephen and Jonna learned a couple of years into their marriage that they probably wouldn’t be able to have biological children. “Anyone who has ever received that news knows that it is a devastating blow to your identity and the dreams you have for your future,” he said.

Photo provided
Steven Giblet and his wife Jessica, pictured with their three children, one of whom was adopted, sensed a call to foster care and adoption during a special Sunday church emphasis.

“We started by pursuing foster care with the goal of adoption. We became DHS-certified but learned, after months of waiting, that the chances of adopting a newborn were very slim,” Myers said. “We are foster care advocates, but at the time we longed to have a newborn baby.”
In 2016, Stephen and Jonna were matched to adopt a little boy. The elated couple prepared for the arrival of their new son. They arrived at a hotel near the hospital, ready to take him home, only to learn the birthmother decided to keep the baby.
“A couple of weeks later, we got another phone call saying we were selected by a new birth mother who was going to have a little girl,” Myers recounted. “When Lydia came into our lives, we gained perspective. Though painful, the years of trying and failing to get pregnant and the failed adoption we experienced were all a part of God’s sovereign plan for our family. If we were able to have children biologically and if we were able to adopt that little boy, we wouldn’t have Lydia Faith. Grace, grace, God’s grace.”
Giblet said he and Jessica “felt the call of the Holy Spirit drawing us into foster care/adoption after a foster care/adoption Sunday” at their former church, First Baptist in Weatherford, Okla.
“Soon afterward we became certified,” Giblet said, “and our first foster care children came to our home,” a brother and a sister, ages 4 and 2. “They were physically and emotionally neglected. They came to our house with a few belongings in a Walmart sack and needing a bath. They were only with us a short time before they moved on to a home that was excitedly ready to adopt them. That was in 2014. There is rarely a day I don’t think about those two precious babies,” he said.
The couple continued fostering other children who moved on to live with other families. “Then in November of 2015, a skinny, crazy-haired little boy named Demetri came into our home at 3 in the morning,” Giblet said. “This began a slow, hard process that left us heartbroken on multiple occasions, as he would go back to his mother, only to return to us a few short months later.
“Jessica and I prayed often for Demetri’s mother,” Giblet said. “We never prayed for her to fail, even though we desperately wanted Demetri back in our home. But we prayed a very specific prayer, and it was in August of 2017 that Demetri’s mother called and repeated my private prayer back to me almost word for word and told us that she loved her son dearly, but she knew we did too, and she wanted to relinquish her rights and for us to adopt him.
“This was not expected. It is a sacrifice and gift that my wife and I can never repay to her. On Dec. 1, 2017, Demetri became fully and wholly our son.”
Myers and Giblet offer counsel to pastors who wish to cultivate a culture of foster care and adoption in their church. “We talk about foster care and adoption often,” Myers said. “We reference adoption in our sermons; we use our own experiences as illustrations to help people see that foster care and adoption are gospel issues. We pray for orphans. We partner with organizations to help provide foster kids and families with things they need.”
For information from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma about how to implement a culture of foster care and adoption in your church, visit bgco.org/foster. For information from Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, go to erlc.com and enter search terms “foster care” and “adoption.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jan. 20 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday in the Southern Baptist Convention. Chris Forbes is the Cooperative Program/branding and marketing specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. This article first appeared in the convention’s news journal, The Baptist Messenger, baptistmessenger.com.)

1/15/2019 11:25:16 AM by Chris Forbes, Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma | with 0 comments

5 ways to make TV safe for kids: See PTC’s 2019 list

January 15 2019 by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press

Protecting children from obscenity on television has never been more difficult than in 2019, the Parents Television Council (PTC) said in listing the top five reforms the entertainment industry needs to make this year.

Netflix video cover
The Netflix cartoon Big Mouth, featuring teenagers confused by newfound puberty, is one of several shows harmful to children, the Parents Television Council said.

“Even with the most diligent parental oversight, the industry has exceptional power and leverage to influence our children,” the PTC said. “But while the industry continues to produce and distribute entertainment content, it continues to wave off any responsibility for harmful effects that content can have on children.
“That is the very height of corporate malfeasance and hypocrisy,” the PTC said in its list released at w2.parentstv.org/blog/.
The PTC implores the entertainment industry to:
1. Prevent inaccurate marketing to children by establishing “accurate, consistent and transparent” content ratings systems with public accountability.
“The current ratings systems are none of those things,” the PTC said. “Our own research, along with outside research, shows how these ratings systems allow kids to have access to some of the most violent and sexually explicit media content available.”
2. Stop marketing harmful content to children on streaming services such as Netflix.
Competition among streaming services is pushing such established outlets as Netflix to expand its lineup with little consideration of child safety, PTC warns.
The PTC described as “proven to be harmful to children” the Netflix suicide drama “13 Reasons Why”; the cartoon “Big Mouth” that “grotesquely sexualizes children,” and the film “Desire,” which the PTC said “borders on child pornography.”
Netflix callously markets such programs to children through its on demand streaming platform, the PTC asserts, with no regard for child safety.
3. Offer an “al a carte” Cable TV service instead of company-selected bundle plans.
Allowing families to choose which channels they subscribe to on Cable TV, instead of offering pre-packaged bundles, would allow families another tool in avoiding unsavory content, the PTC said.
“For years the PTC has advocated for the industry to embrace ‘a la carte’ Cable choice, where consumers choose and pay for only the networks they want to watch,” the PTC said. “Studies have also shown that families are seeking an ‘a la carte’ Cable choice solution not just because they are tired of paying for more than they watch, but also to keep harmful content from reaching their children.”
4. Stop opposing parental access to technology that filters television content.
Hollywood has effectively blocked parental access to technology that would allow consumers to filter explicit content from shows viewed on Netflix, Amazon and other bona fide streaming services, the PTC said.
Most recently, Hollywood studios lobbied against an amendment to the Family Movie Act in the last congressional session of 2018 by describing the technology as a tool of copyright piracy, the PTC said. Filtering can benefit the entertainment industry as well as parents, the PTC asserts, because parents would be willing to pay for filtering.
“Hollywood must stop its opposition to such a common-sense solution for families,” the nonpartisan watchdog group said. “If they won’t do it, then Congress must put families first by re-introducing this Family Movie Act amendment and passing it this year.”
5) Expand the #MeToo movement to protect children.
Television entertainment needs to prioritize children by discontinuing “sexually explicit, degrading, misogynistic and demeaning content” that “frequently includes children in the scene,” according to the PTC.
“We believe there is an urgent need for Hollywood to recognize #OurKidsToo,” the PTC said, and “improve how it portrays girls and young women.”
If these five reforms are adopted, as the PTC explains it, parents would not have to worry about accurate ratings, children would not be exposed to age-inappropriate content and issues, and families would not be forced to buy sexually explicit programming alongside family friending shows.

1/15/2019 11:25:05 AM by Diana Chandler, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

ERLC releases update on sex abuse study group

January 14 2019 by Biblical Recorder Staff

Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said the study group on sexual abuse launched last summer by J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), is currently focused on assessing needs and reviewing ways to prevent abuse and care for survivors.
Bethancourt outlined “phase one” of the group’s three-part effort and signaled plans for the future in an article published at the ERLC website on Jan. 14. The study group was formed by Greear, who serves as pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., in conjunction with the ERLC and the SBC Executive Committee.
“The purpose of this phase is to review existing organizations, strategies, experts, and resources in order to better understand the landscape of needs and opportunities when it comes to sexual abuse,” said Bethancourt.
The group has asked for input from a range of sources, including commissioning a survey on abuse by LifeWay Christian Resources. Plans for the project’s next phases – development and implementation – are already taking shape, according to Bethancourt.
Forthcoming resources will include “church-based strategies, seminary and higher education practices and training, and resources to be utilized at every level of the SBC” as part of a “wide-scale, comprehensive effort.” More information will be released at the SBC annual meeting, June 11-12, in Birmingham, Ala.
Bethancourt encouraged churches not to wait until the study group finishes their work to begin preventing abuse and caring for survivors.
“Even now, churches should implement basic, common-sense initiatives such as background checks and ‘two deep’ policies that require two adults to be present when working with minors,” he said. “Although the study will highlight how there is much more that can be done, we encourage churches to take action now.”
Email studygroup@erlc.com with questions or suggestions.

1/14/2019 3:23:16 PM by Biblical Recorder Staff | with 0 comments

Protestants remain majority group in Congress

January 14 2019 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

Self-identified Protestant Christians – including more than 30 Southern Baptists – continue to make up by far the largest religious group in Congress.
Protestants total 293 members, or 55 percent, of the 116th Congress, according to a study published Jan. 3 by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. The analysis of data on members of the Senate and House of Representatives showed a decline of six Protestants from the previous Congress.
The largest Protestant category is “unspecified/other,” which consists of 80 members who identify themselves by such descriptions as Christian, evangelical or Protestant without citing a denomination. The general category of Baptists is the next largest with 72 members, the same as in the 2017-18 session.
Christians – an identification that includes Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Mormons in Pew’s analysis – dominate the religious makeup of the legislative body with 471 members or 88 percent of Congress. The new figure reflects a three percent decline in Christians from the 115th Congress.
Catholics make up the second largest religious group next to Protestants in Congress at 163 members or 31 percent.
Protestant and Catholic makeup of Congress has remained steady during the last six sessions dating to 2009, according to Pew. In that span, Protestant numbers have been between a low of 293 this year and a high of 307, while Catholics have totaled from 156 to 168.
Historian Thomas Kidd pointed to a couple of takeaways from the latest congressional numbers.
“To me, this suggests that Christian denominations – especially mainline Protestants – still hold a lot of cultural sway in America, in spite of the massive media coverage given to the unaffiliated, or ‘nones,’ over the past decade,” said Kidd, distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and prolific author on American religious history.
“The religious composition of Congress is largely a story of historic continuity, especially in comparison to the (much smaller) Supreme Court, where Protestant affiliation has nearly vanished,” he told Baptist Press (BP) in written comments.
The nine-member high court has five Catholic and three Jewish justices. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch reportedly has attended the Episcopal Church as an adult but grew up in the Catholic Church.
The two major political parties diverge on religious makeup in Congress: 

  • Republicans in Congress identify themselves almost unanimously as Christians. There are 250 GOP members who self-identify as Christians by Pew’s definition – all 53 senators and 197 representatives. Two Jewish representatives are the only other Republicans.

  • Democrats are more diverse. While 221 (78 percent) identify as Christians, 32 (11 percent) are Jewish and 18 identify as “don’t know/refused.” There are three Muslims, including women (2) for the first time; three Hindus; two Buddhists; two Unitarian Universalists; and one “unaffiliated,” new Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

At least six senators and 25 representatives who are members of Southern Baptist churches held their seats in the latest Congress. All except Rep. Al Green of Texas are Republicans. Two Southern Baptists in the Senate – Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Roger Wicker of Mississippi – won re-election in November, while four others were not up for re-election.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) is “always grateful when our Southern Baptist brothers and sisters are elected to Congress,” though “the issues we represent affect much more than Southern Baptists …,” said Daniel Darling, the entity’s vice president for communications. And while the ERLC has great relationships with members of Congress across denominations, he told BP in written remarks, the ERLC seeks “to build special relationships with those SBC members and their staffs, and we find that sharing a common faith tradition helps us in our advocacy because we are working from many of the same assumptions.” 
A recent example, Darling said, involved the ERLC’s work in 2018 with Reps. Mark Walker of North Carolina and Mike Johnson of Louisiana, as well as Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, in an attempt to repeal a law that requires churches and other non-profit organizations to pay taxes on such employee benefits as parking and transportation. Congress has yet to rescind it.
“Because of their involvement in and leadership of SBC churches, they understand the harm that this tax could cause churches both financially and for religious liberty,” Darling said. “That kind of shared lived experience is super-helpful to advocacy. The issues became more than theoretical.”
The Pew analysis – based on data collected by the news publication CQ Roll Call – showed some differences between Congress and the adult American public. For instance:

  • While 88 percent of Congress identifies as Christian, 71 percent of Americans do.

  • Though only one in 535 congressional members is “unaffiliated,” 23 percent of Americans are “unaffiliated” or “nones.”

Protestants dominated the makeup of the federal legislative body in the distant past before Congress became more diverse. In the 1961-62 session, 398 senators and representatives identified as Protestant, according to Pew’s report based on information from the Library of Congress. Another 100 were Catholics, which meant 498 of the 535 congressional members identified themselves with the Christian religion.
Since 1961, Catholic members have increased from 100 to 163, Jewish members from 12 to 34 and “don’t know/refused” from five to 18, according to Pew.
Below are the incumbent senators and representatives whom BP has identified as members of Southern Baptist churches based on information from the churches or the congressional offices. This list is based on church membership, not attendance.
Arkansas – Sen. John Boozman, R, second term.
Mississippi – Sen. Roger Wicker, R, third term.
Missouri – Sen. Roy Blunt, R, second term.
Oklahoma – Sen. James Lankford, R, first full term.
South Carolina – Sen. Lindsey Graham, R, fourth term.
Texas – Sen. Ted Cruz, R, second term.
House of Representatives
Arkansas: Rep. Rick Crawford, R, 1st District, fifth term. Rep. Steve Womack, R., 3rd District, fifth term. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R, 4th District, third term.
Florida: Rep. Matt Gaetz, R, 1st District, second term. Rep. Daniel Webster, R, 11th District, fifth term. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R, 16th District, eighth term.
Georgia: Rep. Austin Scott, R., 8th District, fifth term. Rep. Doug Collins, R., 9th District, fourth term. Rep. Jody Hice, R, 10th District, third term. Rep. Tom Graves, R, 14th District, fourth term.
Kentucky: Rep. Harold Rogers, R, 5th District, 20th term.
Louisiana: Rep. Mike Johnson, R, 4th District, second term. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R, 5th District, second term.
Missouri: Rep. Sam Graves, R, 6th District, 10th term.
North Carolina: Rep. George Holding, R, 2nd District, fourth term. Rep. Mark Walker, 6th District, third term. Rep. David Rouzer, R, 7th District, third term.
Oklahoma: Rep. Frank Lucas, R, 3rd District, 14th term.
South Carolina: Rep. Jeff Duncan, R, 3rd District, fifth term.
Texas: Rep. Louie Gohmert, R, 1st District, eighth term. Rep. Al Green, D, 9th District, eighth term. Rep. Mike Conaway, R, 11th District, eighth term. Rep. Randy Weber, R, 14th District, fourth term. Rep. Bill Flores, R, 17th District, fifth term. Rep. Brian Babin, R, 36th District, third term.
If you know of newly elected senators or representatives who are members of Southern Baptist churches, please email bpress@sbc.net.
The Pew report is available online at pewforum.org/2019/01/03/faith-on-the-hill-116/.

1/14/2019 11:48:24 AM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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