July 2015

U.S.-Iran prisoner swaps challenged

July 23 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

Though America’s release of four Iranian prisoners in 2012-13 was viewed by some as reciprocation for Iran’s release of three American hikers, a Wall Street Journal report suggests the prisoner releases were also related to a private series of negotiations that paved the way for this month’s nuclear agreement.
Renewed discussion of the prisoner releases, which were first reported years ago, has spurred fresh criticism of the Obama administration for not securing the release of American pastor Saeed Abedini and three other missing or detained Americans as part of a nuclear deal.
“Are the Iranian guards going by Pastor Abedini’s cell and saying, ‘They didn’t even try to put you in the deal, pastor’?” said Frank Wolf, a retired Republican congressman and human rights advocate. “It has always been a fact of life that when America raises [political prisoners] by name over and over and over, that makes their life better in prison ... and is the fastest way to get them out of prison.”
Wolf said the release of Iranian prisoners “absolutely” heightens the injustice of the nuclear deal. Release of American detainees “probably should have even been a precondition” of nuclear negotiations, with Iranian diplomats being told, “We won’t even begin to sit down and begin to talk until you release them.” At minimum, the release of American prisoners “should have been a part of any deal.”


Saeed Abedini

Abedini has been imprisoned since 2012 for his Christian faith. He remains incarcerated in Iran along with journalist Jason Rezaian and former Marine Amir Hekmati. Retired FBI agent Robert Levinson has been missing in Iran since 2007. July 22 marks the one-year anniversary of Rezaian’s captivity.
The Journal reported June 28 that, beginning in 2009, Iran relayed to U.S. officials names of prisoners it wanted released from custody in the West. Communicating secretly through an envoy sent by the sultan of Oman, the U.S. eventually agreed to help secure the release of four Iranians held in the U.S. and U.K. – two convicted arms smugglers, a retired senior diplomat and a scientist alleged to have played an important role in Iran’s missile and nuclear programs. All four were released in 2012-13.
In at least two cases, the released Iranian prisoners had already served their full sentences but were allowed to depart the U.S. more quickly than typical released detainees, The Journal reported.
According to some Journal sources, release of the Iranian prisoners likely was a reciprocal gesture for Iran’s release of three American hikers who were arrested in 2009 on espionage charges after they apparently wandered into Iran from Iraq. But the release of Iranians also served a larger purpose of building goodwill leading up to nuclear talks, according to The Journal.
“The return of prisoners on both sides seemed to help build momentum for the secret nuclear negotiations taking place in Oman,” The Journal stated.
While the first three released Iranians seemed to be a response for Iran’s release of the hikers, intelligence analyst Ronen Solomon told The Times of Israel it was “unclear ... what the U.S. got” in exchange for the fourth prisoner – nuclear scientist Mojtaba Atarodi, an electrical engineer arrested in 2011 in Los Angeles on classified charges.
Atarodi’s release, Solomon said, was “a prize” for Iran because of his apparent role in the nation’s nuclear and missile programs. Neither side acknowledges that formal prisoner swaps have ever occurred, according to The Journal. But Solomon speculated in 2013 that Iran would release at least one American in custody as a reciprocal gesture.
They never did.
President Obama said July 21 that his administration is “not going to relent until we bring home Americans who are unjustly detained in Iran,” Fox News reported. He named Abedini, Rezaian and Hekmati as individuals who “should be released,” adding that Iran should help find Levinson.
Obama appeared to take offense July 15 when CBS reporter Major Garrett asked why the president was “content” to leave the four Americans out of the nuclear deal, the Washington Post reported. Obama responded, “The notion that I am ‘content’ as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails” is “nonsense.”
Conditioning a nuclear deal on the Americans’ release, Obama said, could cause Iran to reason, “Maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.” Wolf called Obama’s argument “ridiculous,” saying the U.S. used to place human rights “at the very top of every bit of negotiation.”
Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), said, “The U.S. really pulled out all the stops to get Iran to sit down at the [negotiating] table” while failing to fight adequately for its own citizens. Though advocacy groups like the ACLJ are not in a position to decide whether prisoner swaps should occur, Sekulow cited an apparent incongruity between the three hikers released by Iran and the prisoners released by the U.S.
“Anytime there’s a release of Iranians, they’re likely imprisoned in the U.S. because of their work funding Iran’s terrorist activities or their nuclear program,” Sekulow said. The detained Americans “are prisoners of conscience.”
A final deal must not be approved by Obama and Congress without securing the release of the detained Americans, Sekulow said.
“It would be unacceptable not to get these Americans home,” Sekulow said, noting that Congress has begun its 60-day review period of the nuclear agreement. “What would the incentive be” to release them if Iran received “the sanctions relief they’re looking for?”
In a July 15 letter from prison posted on the “Pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini” Facebook page, Abedini noted “that so many of you have felt that I have been left behind after a deal was reached with Iran and I am still not home.” He requested prayer for America as well as the world and said, “God is in control of all countries and leadership in the world when the body of Christ comes together in united prayer. He is in control and He is the One who beautifully writes the history over all governments, presidents and any P5+1 negotiating team.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)


Related Story:

Iran deal: persecuted church ‘left behind’

7/23/2015 12:08:39 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Ky. county clerk prays, denies same-sex marriages

July 23 2015 by Mike Wynn, USA Today Network

Rowan County’s clerk prayed and fasted over her decision to refuse marriage licenses for same-sex couples, she testified in federal court, and she said believes she is upholding her oath under the Constitution.
Clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to provide licenses has drawn wide attention after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that marriage is a fundamental right for all couples. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear ordered clerks to comply with the decision.
“It wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment decision,” Davis said. “It was thought out, and I sought God on it.”
On the stand Monday, Davis described herself as an Apostolic Christian who believes marriage is defined as the union of one man and one woman under the Bible – “God’s holy word” – and said she contemplated her policy for months.
She choked back tears at times as she argued that issuing licenses under her name would violate her religious beliefs even if a deputy clerk performs the task in her stead.
“If I say they are authorized, I’m saying, ‘I agree with it.’ And I can’t,” Davis said.
Monday’s testimony marked a second hearing in the case, and U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning said he expects to release a decision around Aug. 11. Meanwhile, Davis said she is denying licenses to all couples to avoid discriminating against those in same-sex relationships.


Photo by Mike Wynn, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis appearing at the Federal Courthouse in Covington.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued on behalf of two same-sex couples and two opposite-sex couples, alleging that Davis violated their constitutional rights when refusing licenses. The couples, some of whom testified last week, argue that they live, work and pay taxes in Rowan County, a county of about 24,000 residents halfway between Lexington, Ky., and Huntington, W.Va., and shouldn’t have to drive elsewhere to obtain the paperwork.
If applied statewide, Davis’ reasoning would create chaos, allowing anyone to deny a license at any time based on personal religious beliefs, Daniel Canon, a lawyer working with the ACLU, said after the hearing. He called it an “unsustainable policy.”
“Why should the taxpaying citizens of Rowan County have to go anyplace else aside from their own county to get a marriage license?” he asked. “Why should they be held to a different standard than anybody else?”
But lawyers from the Liberty Council, a religious freedom organization representing Davis, say people still can obtain licenses in surrounding counties, whose seats are less than 40 miles from Morehead, Ky., and that Davis’ First Amendment liberties protect her decision – even in public office.
Roger Gannam, a lawyer with the group, said the couples drove an hour to last week’s hearing in Ashland, Ky., and two hours to the hearing Monday in Covington and could have obtained a license in either place.
“This case is not about these plaintiffs’ desires to get married,” Gannam said. “The case is about the plaintiffs desire to force Kim Davis to approve and authorize their marriage in violation of her constitutionally protected religious beliefs.”
Public employees don’t have full First Amendment rights because those rights are balanced against their employer, the government, Ruthann Robson, distinguished professor of law at the City University of New York told The Washington Post in June.
During Monday’s hearing, Davis repeatedly cited religious rights under the First Amendment in her defense. She testified that she attends church “every time the doors are open” and performs a Bible study at a local jail once a week.
After working in the clerk’s office for nearly 30 years, she said she never has denied a license on religious grounds or asked applicants about relationships she might find sinful.
Davis said she sent letters to lawmakers in January asking for legislation to protect clerks who have moral objections and had a meeting with employees over the policy. If Bunning orders Davis to issue licenses, she said she would deal with that when it comes but resigning is not an option because it would only leave the matter to her deputies.
Some county officials in Southern states – including Cleburne County Clerk Dana Guffey in Heber Springs, Ark.; Decatur County Clerk Gwen Pope and two others in Decaturville, Tenn.; and Rusk County Clerk Joyce Lewis-Kugle in Henderson, Texas – have resigned rather than issue licenses to same-sex couples. Alabama law says county probate judges in the state “may” issue marriage licenses, so some counties have ceased providing the service.
“If I resign, I solve nothing. It helps nobody,” Davis said.
Davis later testified that she still is following the Constitution because it protects expression of religion, and she noted that the Kentucky Constitution limited marriage to one man and one woman when she was elected. But under cross-examination, she struggled to answer questions about who has the final say in interpreting the Constitution, saying, “I’m not a lawyer.”
When asked if the Supreme Court holds final authority, she answered, “I suppose.”
Davis also said under questioning that she can’t speak for other clerks who might deny licenses for interracial couples or people who have been divorced.
Rowan County Judge-Executive Walter Blevins, who is authorized under state law to issue licenses if Davis is absent, was the only other witness Monday. He testified that while he believes in the traditional view of marriage, he would follow the law and provide licenses to same-sex couples.
Davis is among a number of clerks in Kentucky who have cited concerns over issuing licenses though most have continued providing them. Beshear’s office has received letters of concern from 10 clerks so far.
Though Beshear said he will not call a special session of the General Assembly, some lawmakers say they want to pass legislation that would allow couples to obtain licenses directly from the state or apply online. It’s unclear how Bunning’s ruling might affect other county clerks.
In neighboring Tennessee, some Republican lawmakers want the state to consider allowing employees who object to same-sex marriage to refuse to serve gay couples, but Gov. Bill Haslam also has given no indication that he will call a special session before lawmakers are due to return in January.
Canon said he could not discuss whether the ACLU has been approached by couples in other counties about more lawsuits.
Those on both sides of the issue demonstrated outside the courthouse Monday, waving signs in downtown Covington.
Kent Ostrander, executive director of the conservative Family Foundation of Kentucky, passed out a statement ahead of the hearing, arguing that Beshear needs to do his job and protect the religious liberties of clerks.
“The governor is not above the law,” he said. “To date, all he has done is press the issuance of the licenses and then sit back and let the ACLU sue the Rowan County clerk personally.”
But Michael Biel, a demonstrator from Morehead who was out in support of the couples, said Davis needs to do the job she was elected to do.
“She was not elected to be a preacher,” he said. “She was not elected to bring her brand of religion into the courthouse, which is what she has done. Her particular interpretation of her religion is in violation of my interpretation of my religion.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Wynn reports for The Courier-Journal out of Louisville, Ky. Dave Boucher contributed from The Tennessean.)

7/23/2015 12:03:56 PM by Mike Wynn, USA Today Network | with 0 comments

Moore to interview presidential candidates at rally

July 23 2015 by David Gibson, Religion News Service

Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, will interview Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush in Nashville, Tenn., next month in front of a sold-out crowd of 13,000 evangelical pastors and leaders.
Moore will also interview Sen. Marco Rubio, a Floridian like Bush and now a GOP rival, by video during the Aug. 4 rally at the Bridgestone Arena.


ERLC photo
Russell Moore

But the unusual event is being seen as both a major effort by Bush to reach out to Christian conservatives – a key constituency Bush has sometimes struggled to win over – and by evangelicals to reassert their political influence during a time of landmark social change.
“What has become clear in the last several years is that evangelicals are tired of sloganeering and are looking for a concrete strategy,” Moore said in a statement.
“They can no longer consider themselves part of some silent majority, where our First Amendment freedoms are assumed and guaranteed,” he continued. “Instead, evangelicals want to know which candidates offer a clear, coherent vision of religious liberty and have a plan to defend it when the very idea is contested in American politics.
“Evangelicals are looking for leaders who not only understand their convictions about human dignity and family stability but have plans to address them,” Moore said.
He said he invited leading candidates from both major parties, but it’s not clear whether any of the other Republicans will take part, or if Democrats will participate.
The legalization of gay marriage and coming battles over gay rights, as well as issues such as the Obama administration’s birth control policies, have alarmed many conservative believers and galvanized some of their leaders to shift the battle to the field of religious freedom.

The event, which will draw evangelicals from across the country, was first flagged on July 23 by Politico’s Mike Allen.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service.)

7/23/2015 11:58:23 AM by David Gibson, Religion News Service | with 0 comments

U.S. church helps start an English center in Middle East

July 23 2015 by Brian Andrews, IMB Connecting

Chalk dust swirls around Joel’s* head as he writes on the board. Fruit vendor conversations outside the window accompany his students’ attempts to sound out the word he has written: H-E-L-L-O. Only 15 people can fit into the small room. The compact accommodations are sufficient for now, but Joel hopes to one day teach in a full-sized language center.
Joel started teaching English in this small, Middle Eastern village after Carter,* a journeyman who taught English in a nearby city, became friends with Abdullah,* a student who lives here. Carter saw an opportunity to invest in Abdullah’s village through a children’s English camp. Abdullah loved this idea, so six months later a volunteer team from Carter’s home church arrived to teach English to more than 50 eager children in the village.


Because Carter wanted the volunteers and local workers like Joel to form lasting relationships with the parents of the English students, he made an agreement with the village: If he provided teachers, the village would feed them lunch.
So, after finishing English activities each day, volunteers from Carter’s church went in twos or threes to eat with their students’ parents, accompanied by a worker who spoke Arabic. As they visited, they shared stories from their lives and, if the parents asked, talked about their faith.
This initial camp went so well, the village asked the team to do it again the following year. By this time Carter had returned to the U.S., so Joel coordinated the next English camp. As they began planning, Abdullah asked Joel if someone could live in the village permanently and teach English from a center there.
Joel believes this village’s openness was a result of prayer and Carter’s efforts to build relationships.
“This situation is a great example of how important personal relationships are to our work. None of the relationships were a coincidence or accident.”
These relationships and the development of the English center have provided Joel and other workers many opportunities to speak into the lives of the villagers. Recently, Joel and his wife invited Abdullah and his wife to their house for dinner. Abdullah saw one of their copies of the Word, and he and his wife began reading it and asking questions. Joel pointed him to John 3 to illustrate how Jesus changes people.
Following the success of a conversational English course, Joel’s team now offers a beginner’s English class in a small apartment-turned-classroom. However, they continue to search for more permanent facilities in which they can teach English and perhaps other subjects.
*Name changed
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Andrews is a writer for IMB based in the Middle East.)

7/23/2015 11:54:39 AM by Brian Andrews, IMB Connecting | with 0 comments

LifeWay offer for new Nashville site accepted

July 23 2015 by Baptist Press staff

LifeWay Christian Resources’ offer to purchase 1.5 acres in downtown Nashville for a new office building has been accepted, the Southern Baptist entity announced July 21.
The city’s Metro Development and Housing Agency (MDHA), which owns the property, unanimously approved sale of the site for $12.7 million, with a tax incentive of $4.9 million that can fund specific aspects of the construction, effectively reducing the purchase cost to less than $8 million.
Meanwhile, LifeWay is moving toward finalizing the sale of its current 14.5-acre campus, with more than 1 million square feet of office space, to a consortium of local and national developers later this summer. The sales price of LifeWay’s present facilities has not been released by the buyers.


LifeWay’s new building, located one mile across downtown Nashville from the present campus, will encompass 216,000 square feet. The number of stories of the facility is in the design process.
The new location is a few blocks south of Nashville’s Broadway District – a popular shopping and entertainment area – and across the river from Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans football team.
Thom S. Rainer, LifeWay’s president, said in a letter to employees that the new location “will be exciting for our employees and visitors, and will provide us opportunities to serve the millions of people who work, live, and visit Nashville’s central business district each year.”
The project’s construction contractor and architects have already started engineering and environmental studies on the property, Rainer said, and if all goes well, he anticipates closing on the new location early this fall. LifeWay plans to break ground this year on the new facility that is slated for completion by late 2017.
LifeWay began a preliminary feasibility study last August into selling its campus to relocate to facilities better suited to the ministry’s future.
Much of LifeWay’s current campus is outdated, Rainer had said, noting that many of the buildings date from the early part of the 20th century and are not designed for modern technology or collaborative work.
About 1,100 LifeWay employees are based in the downtown offices and will move into the new building. LifeWay also operates 184 LifeWay Christian Stores in 29 states and a national conference center in Ridgecrest, N.C., with more than 4,000 total employees.
LifeWay has contracted with Gresham, Smith and Partners in Nashville to design the new building, with Bell & Associates Construction in Brentwood, Tenn., managing construction of the new building. Compass Partners, LLC, in Brentwood will help LifeWay manage the process of the new project, serving as the owner’s representative.
LifeWay was founded in 1891 in Nashville as the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Baptist Press.)

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7/23/2015 11:49:03 AM by Baptist Press staff | with 0 comments

Jeannie Elliff, 69, dies of cancer

July 22 2015 by Tess Rivers, IMB/Baptist Press

Jeannie Elliff, wife of former International Mission Board (IMB) President Tom Elliff, died July 20 at her home in Oklahoma City following a long struggle with cancer. She was 69.
“The entire IMB family and I praise God for Jeannie Elliff,” said IMB President David Platt. “To use Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 6:10, we are filled with sorrowful rejoicing at the news of her passing. We grieve with Tom, the Elliff family, and countless friends who have known and loved this woman of prayer and model of faith.”
Elliff, who had fought two previous bouts with cancer, was diagnosed a third time in summer 2014, a few months after her husband asked IMB trustees to begin the search for his successor.
“For many years, she has served and cared for IMB personnel around the world in selfless and unseen ways, and we will miss her deeply,” Platt said. “Yet we grieve with hope, for the joy of Christ in Jeannie Elliff could not be overcome by cancer, and it has not been overcome by death. We rejoice that she is with our Lord, and we look forward to the day when we will join her around the throne of our King with every nation, tribe and tongue to give Him the ultimate glory that He is due.”


Jeannie Elliff

Frank S. Page, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee president, said, “Dayle and I dearly loved Jeannie Eliff. While we met her many years ago, she became particularly special to us when I was elected president of the SBC in 2006. Very new to the national Southern Baptist Convention level, she became a precious encourager to us.”
“Heaven is a richer place today, and I immediately called out Job 1:21, ‘blessed be the name of the Lord’ when I heard of her passing,” he said. “Our prayers are with Tom and his precious family.”
The ultimate glory of God among the nations was the basis on which Elliff staked her life and ministry. In 2014 she was awarded the Willie Turner Dawson award at the Ministers’ Wives Luncheon during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. The award is given to women who have made a distinct denominational contribution that extends beyond the local church.
“I accept this on behalf of the 2,578 IMB women who serve in hard places around the world,” she said at the time.
Many of the IMB women Elliff referenced particularly appreciated her prayer ministry. From personal experience, Elliff understood how to pray specifically and passionately for the needs of those ministering in hard places. She served as a missionary in Zimbabwe in the early 1980s and sent two children and their families overseas as missionaries. At one time, 11 of her 25 grandchildren lived overseas.
Sarah Mycks*, who serves in Southeast Asia, appreciated Elliff’s prayers in the years following the death of Mycks’ husband.
“I found in the last few years that she has specifically prayed for me and my family many times,” Mycks said. “I know that in those times, despite I had no idea it was happening, God heard her prayers and blessed us in her faithfulness. She was such a blessing to me and to so many others.”
Elliff’s passion for prayer was fueled in part by the difficult circumstances she faced in her own life, including a 1982 automobile accident in Zimbabwe that nearly took the life of her daughter Beth and brought the family back to the United States.
She never forgot what God taught her that awful day in Zimbabwe.
“That was a huge lesson for me,” she said in a 2011 interview. “The Lord said, ‘You’re not in charge, Jeannie.’”
The lesson she learned as she relinquished control of her children in Zimbabwe led Elliff to desperately seek – for herself and others – the One who is in ultimate control. An entire wall of the Elliffs’ walk-in bedroom closet was covered with the photos and prayer cards of IMB missionaries. When things got hectic, she often went into the closet to pray. Her primary prayer for missionaries was based on John 17:3 and Daniel 11:32: That they would seek to know God first, and do great things as a result.
The impact of Elliff’s prayer ministry was never more evident than the hours following her death. Condolences and remembrances from friends around the world peppered her Facebook page and personal blogs across the Internet.
Missionary Vicki Lassiter, who serves in Lima, Peru, wrote on Elliff’s Facebook page, “Want to learn how to live well and die well? Thank you, Jeannie Elliff. Praying comfort and sweet memories for your family.”
Gaylia Waldrip*, who previously lived in the Middle East, wrote on her blog, “[Elliff’s] prayers were her greatest gift to all of us. She prayed with an earnestness born out of a deep personal faith in God. She knew Him and knew what He could do in our lives. He called her to prayer, and she met Him there … for all of us.”
“Jeannie was a blessing to everyone who knew her,” said Clyde Meador, IMB executive adviser to the president. “Her absolute commitment to and dependence on the Lord was always evident by the joy she shared with all she encountered. Her passion was to share the love of Jesus – from her family and her neighbor to the ends of the earth. From the first time I met her even until now, her faith and joy never wavered.”
Elliff is survived by Tom, her husband of 49 years; one sister; three daughters; one son; 25 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m., Friday, July 24, at First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla.
*Name changed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tess Rivers is an IMB writer. With reporting by Baptist Press.)

7/22/2015 1:20:34 PM by Tess Rivers, IMB/Baptist Press | with 0 comments

New video shows PPFA doctor negotiating prices

July 22 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A second undercover video released July 21 by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) appears to show a Planned Parenthood doctor negotiating the price of baby parts obtained through abortion and discussing the possibility of varying abortion procedures to harvest intact organs.
At one point in the video, a woman identified as Mary Gatter, former president of the Planned Parenthood Medical Directors’ Council, speaks of using “a less crunchy technique” of aborting babies to preserve “more whole specimens.” She also jokes, “I want a Lamborghini,” when negotiating the price of baby parts, though she also says, “We’re not in it for the money” and “we don’t want to be in a position of being accused of selling tissue.”
Gatter appears to settle on a price of $100 per “specimen” but says she wants to investigate what other abortion providers are receiving. The video includes text stating it was shot Feb. 6 by investigators posing as a fetal tissue procurement company.
David Daleiden, senior investigator for the Center for Medical Progress, told LifeSiteNews CMP’s latest video suggests Planned Parenthood violated federal laws that prohibit profiting from the sale of human remains and altering abortion techniques to obtain tissue.


“As we all know by now, Planned Parenthood does not want to be accused of anything and will steadfastly maintain their innocence even in the face of the most shocking evidence,” Daleiden said. “The prices are pure profit that go far and above any real or imagined costs [Planned Parenthood] might have in handing over aborted babies to another company’s technician.”
The video opens with a clip of Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, denying that her organization profits from the sale of fetal tissue in response to the release by CMP last week of a separate video showing a Planned Parenthood doctor discussing the sale of baby parts. The latest video then cuts to Gatter negotiating the price of fetal tissue.
Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., wrote in a blog post that Gatter’s statement about “a less crunchy technique” may be “the worst” thing he has ever heard.
“She says it without emotion,” Strachan wrote. “She herself does not look like a monster. If you walked past her on the sidewalk, you wouldn’t think she was involved in diabolical work. But she is. The banality of evil is real. Ordinary people do terrible things. They speak openly and without any shame of the bodies of little children. Their desire is not to protect and cherish these bodies, but to break as few bones and body parts as possible in order to get maximum bang for the buck.
“Behold depravity,” continued Strachan, who also serves as president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. “Behold original sin, bubbling to the surface. Behold the heart of darkness, which we all have.”
Christians must share the gospel with pro-choice activists during this “moment of decision for Americans who support abortion,” Strachan wrote. “The lid has come off. The work is exposed. Will [abortion supporters] put a pillow over their conscience? Will they suffocate it? Or will they allow it to live, breathe and function once more?”
Other Southern Baptists took to Twitter in response to the latest CMP video. Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., tweeted, “Why aren’t ALL Christians crying out re: the barbaric, Nazi-like actions of #PlannedParenthood re: selling aborted babies & their organs?”
David Prince, pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., tweeted, “Folks, if you had removed evil from your vocabulary – it should return.”
Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, responded to a Planned Parenthood tweet claiming, “The extremists behind the #PlannedParenthood videos spent 3 years creating a shell company, built a phony nonprofit [and] may have broken tax law.” Burk replied, “Please note that Planned Parenthood does not dispute killing babies in utero and trafficking baby body parts for pay.”
Two U.S. House committees continue to investigate Planned Parenthood along with seven states – Arizona, Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio and Georgia.
(EDITOR’S NOTE David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

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7/22/2015 1:05:14 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Video highlights Southern Baptists in Columbus

July 22 2015 by Art Toalston, Baptist Press

“Were you able to join us at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in Columbus, Ohio?” SBC President Ronnie Floyd asked on his blog July 20.
“If so, you will remember some of these moments,” Floyd wrote in introducing an “SBC 2015 Video Recap”.
“If not, these are some things you missed” during the June 16-17 gathering in Columbus, Floyd wrote.
To those who were in Columbus and those who weren’t, he added, “We can all look forward to gathering together again in St. Louis in 2016. Begin making plans now to be there!”


BP file photo by Adam Covington
Starting with a tribute to Vietnam veterans on Tuesday morning, the Southern Baptist Convention’s 2015 annual meeting was marked by prayer for a Great Awakening, racial reconciliation and global missions as well as reports on the SBC’s wide-ranging national and international ministries.

Floyd had noted in a July 13 column in Baptist Press that “our great and mighty God met with us powerfully” in Columbus and that “we continue to call daily and continually for the next Great Awakening in America” in moving toward next year’s June 14-15 annual meeting.
The SBC 2015 Video Recap, which can be shared through social media as well as church and small group settings, is just under 11 minutes in length, relaying highlights from the convention’s Tuesday-Wednesday sessions in the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
Among them:

  • “The National Call to Prayer for the next Great Awakening and to Reach the World for Christ” on Tuesday evening.

“Words cannot do the evening justice,” Floyd, senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, had reflected in a June 22 Baptist Press column. “Those in attendance can speak for themselves and they are doing so, but as for me, the night was one I will never forget.”
Floyd was joined on stage by an array of Baptist leaders, from former SBC and state convention presidents to various ethnic leaders, in more than two hours of prayer for spiritual awakening and racial reconciliation that can undergird Southern Baptist missions to the world’s unreached billions.

  • “Church and Mission Sending Celebration” on Wednesday morning.

“Many messengers had never been part of a service that communicated the vision of reaching the world by highlighting our missionaries and church planters,” Floyd noted, adding that “the uniqueness of both mission boards coming together for this experience demonstrated and communicated a unified vision.”

  • “The Presidential Panel on The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage: How to Prepare our Churches for the Future” on Wednesday afternoon.

The video highlights comments by Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Rosaria Butterfield, an author who has chronicled her journey from lesbianism to Christ. Also on the panel were R. Albert Mohler Jr. of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; Matt Carter, lead pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas; and Ryan Blackwell, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in San Francisco.

  • A tribute to Vietnam veterans led by retired Gen. Doug Carver, former Army chief of chaplains who now serves as the North American Mission Board’s chaplaincy leader.

“When we asked for our Vietnam veterans to come forward to help us in giving the Pledge of Allegiance, it was powerful,” Floyd wrote in his June 22 column. “Tears were flowing, emotions were high, and when all veterans and active duty service members joined them, it was an amazing moment.”
The SBC 2015 Video Recap also includes highlights from reports to the 5,400 registered messengers in Columbus by the SBC Executive Committee; presidents of the SBC’s six seminaries; the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board; Woman’s Missionary Union; LifeWay Christian Resources; GuideStone Financial Resources; and Global Hunger Relief.
A three-member communications team at Cross Church spent more than 30 hours “to provide our SBC family an experience in a short video that gives them the heart of our 2015 SBC,” Floyd noted in a July 20 email. “[W]hen I watched their final work, it moved me to an overwhelming gratitude for being a Southern Baptist.
“Prayerfully, [the video] will somehow go to thousands of people and venues across the country and world. When people see this, it will help us forward our vision of reaching the world for Christ,” Floyd wrote.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

7/22/2015 12:54:11 PM by Art Toalston, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

SCOTUS ruling rekindles death penalty debate

July 22 2015 by David Roach, Baptist Press

A Supreme Court ruling that Oklahoma’s method of lethal injection does not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” has rekindled discussion of capital punishment among evangelicals and the high court’s nine justices.
“I do not believe that the death penalty is inherently cruel or unusual punishment if the governing authorities hand it down as the most extreme form of dispensing justice and every effort has been made to ensure the guilt of the individual,” said Shane Hall, pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. “The key for the Christian in the midst of this discussion centers upon the power of the gospel.
“Our desire should not be to see a continual expansion of the use of the death penalty,” said Hall. “Instead, we should desire that the transformative power of the gospel of Jesus Christ would take such a hold upon this nation that the necessary use of the death penalty would become less and less. We can support our governing authorities meting out justice for the good of society, while loving our neighbors by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, which will transform not only the individual but also society as a whole.”
In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled June 29 that Oklahoma may use the sedative midazolam to render inmates unconscious during the lethal injection process. Oklahoma was unable to obtain barbiturates traditionally employed during executions because pharmaceutical companies have become unwilling to sell them for use in capital punishment, The New York Times reported.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said three death row inmates failed to demonstrate that using midazolam results in a substantial risk of severe pain. Alito also said the inmates, all of whom have been convicted of murder, failed to identify an alternate method of execution that would be preferable.


Yet overshadowing the actual ruling, according to some media accounts, was a debate between the court’s conservative and liberal justices over whether the death penalty is constitutional. In a 46-page dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said he believes capital punishment likely violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban of “cruel and unusual punishments.” Justice Antonin Scalia responded that the death penalty cannot be unconstitutional because the Constitution mentions it explicitly.
In an opinion joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Breyer wrote, “Today’s administration of the death penalty involves three fundamental constitutional defects: (1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use.”
Changes in capital punishment over the past 40 years, Breyer wrote, “taken together with my own 20 years of experience on this Court ... lead me to believe that the death penalty, in and of itself, now likely constitutes a legally prohibited ‘cruel and unusual punishmen[t].’”
Scalia, joined in a concurring opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, responded, “Not once in the history of the American Republic has this Court ever suggested the death penalty is categorically impermissible. The reason is obvious: It is impossible to hold unconstitutional that which the Constitution explicitly contemplates. The Fifth Amendment provides that ‘[n]o person shall be held to answer for a capital ... crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury,’ and that no person shall be ‘deprived of life ... without due process of law.’ Nevertheless, today Justice Breyer takes on the role of the abolitionists in this long-running drama, arguing that the text of the Constitution and two centuries of history must yield to his ‘20 years of experience on this Court.’”
Scalia also argued it is “very likely” that the death penalty deters crime and appealed to philosophers who believed “that death is the only just punishment for taking a life.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., noted the debate among the justices and said the death penalty’s background is “deeply rooted in a biblical worldview,” citing Genesis 9.
“Once again, as so many times this term and in recent years, you have on the court two different ways of reading the Constitution,” Mohler said June 30 on his podcast “The Briefing,” “one reading it as a text and one instead reading [it] as a so-called living document that evolves along with the society. We can count on the fact that in fairly short order, it is likely that the Supreme Court will deal more comprehensively with the question of the death penalty.”
The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1791 against a backdrop of torturous capital punishment inflicted in the western world, as when Elizabeth I’s physician was convicted of plotting to kill her, then hanged, cut down alive, mutilated and chopped into four pieces. That episode and other incidents of horrific capital punishment are detailed in Leonard Parry’s The History of Torture in England.
While Christians, with some notable exceptions, historically have supported capital punishment, Rick Durst, professor of historical theology at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif.,, said believers also have “spoken against cruel and unusual incidences” of it “since the publication of the gospels and crucifixion of the Lord on the cross, and the centuries of malevolent persecution and execution of Christians of both genders and all ages.”
“In the fourth century, Eusebius of Caesarea carefully recorded the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment on Christians throughout the Roman empire under various emperors,” Durst said in written comments. “In 390, the order of the Christian emperor Theodosius I to suppress and revenge a rebellion in Thessaloniki, Greece, resulted in the deaths of as many as 7,000 persons. The Bishop of Milan, Ambrose, refused to serve communion to the emperor because of those executions. Ambrose received the emperor back into communion only after Theodosius promised to introduce legislation requiring a 30-day lag before execution in the case of death sentences.”
Englishman John Fox’s Book of Martyrs in the 16th century and Dutch Anabaptist Thieleman van Braght’s The Martyrs Mirror in the 17th century likewise protested the unjust use of capital punishment, Durst said.
Among Baptists, Roger Williams, founder of First Baptist Church in Providence, R.I., published two works “detailing the cruel punishments of the colonial governments, regularly inflicted against non-conforming Baptists and others in the new colonies,” Durst said.
A 2000 Southern Baptist Convention resolution supported “the fair and equitable use of capital punishment by civil magistrates as a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts that result in death.”
In Oklahoma, Hall of First Southern Baptist stands in the Christian tradition of supporting capital punishment as long as it is applied justly.
Regarding Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedure, Hall said, “Assuming the new drug now in use is able to bring about the same effect as the drug previously used, it is not ‘cruel and unusual.’”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)

7/22/2015 12:46:24 PM by David Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Bill waives visa fees for stalled adoptions

July 22 2015 by Abby Reese, WORLD News Service

Steven and Alyssa Sieb have been waiting three years to adopt a child. While doing humanitarian work overseas, the couple met a little girl at an orphanage in Ethiopia. She was abandoned at birth, and the Siebs wanted to give her a home. But it’s unlikely she will ever come to America because the Ethiopian government has said it will not approve adoptions from the region in which the orphanage is located.
The Siebs now hope to adopt another child. They expect to wait another 14 months to get a referral and continue the process.


For couples like the Siebs, waiting can be expensive. On July 14, the Senate approved legislation to alleviate some of that financial burden.
The Adoptive Families Relief Act would allow the U.S. State Department to waive visa renewal fees for children who have been adopted by American families but whose entry into the United States is delayed because of factors beyond their control. Without relief from the new legislation, families must renew their U.S. visas every six months, a process that can cost up to $550 each time.
“Families who step up to provide a safe, stable and loving home for children struggling overseas are a source of inspiration and hope, here and abroad,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said. “Unfortunately, too often, these families encounter challenges beyond their control when bringing their child home.”
Lawmakers agreed they need to do their part to make sure families are supported along the adoption journey. The bipartisan bill moved out of the Senate with unanimous support and now awaits a vote in the House.
Just a few months ago, the Siebs missed renewing their immigration papers by two days and had to complete all the paperwork again. It cost them $1,200 in extra fees. So far the adoption has cost them about $25,000, and they still have as much as $15,000 left to pay.
“This bill would save us a lot of money in a very expensive process,” Alyssa Sieb said. “Most families have to leave their children in the country and fly home without them until the visa process is ready. It’s heart-wrenching.”
As she and her husband enter the third year of waiting to adopt, Sieb said it feels “like a big punishment from the Ethiopian and U.S. governments for wanting to open your home to a child.” She said this is an important issue because, “while we as a country have no control over Ethiopia, we do have control over our processes.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Abby Reese is a writer WORLD News Service. Used by permission.)

7/22/2015 12:31:52 PM by Abby Reese, WORLD News Service | with 0 comments

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